Stakeholders lauded the passing of a Senate resolution opposing the planned liberalization of the sugar industry.
In a statement, Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Board member Dino Yulo said as representative of the sugar producers, “the overwhelming support of our senators will hopefully allay fears of our stakeholders that the proposed liberalization of the sugar industry will not only be suspended for 6 months to a year, but will never happen for as long as we have senators who continue to champion the plight of sugar producers and workers, including the millions of others who are dependent on this industry.”
Yulo thanked the Senate for recognizing the importance of the SRA as a vital agency that will look after the welfare of industry stakeholders and the consuming public.
Senate Resolution 213 unanimously approved by senators on Monday urged the Executive Department not to pursue the planned liberalization of the sugar industry to safeguard the welfare of sugar farmers and industry workers in more than 20 provinces in the country.
“Whereas, liberalization or deregulation of the sugar industry will not affect the competitiveness of sugar-containing food products for export because it is already a policy of the SRA to allow food exporters to openly import sugar without value-added tax or customs duties provided that the end-product is exported and not sold locally,” it said.
The resolution further said the entry of subsidized sugar into the market “will be disastrous to our sugar industry, which contributes an estimated PHP96 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP), particularly to 84,000 farmers — mostly small farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries, with each farmer tills less than a hectare of sugar farmland — and 720,000 industry workers directly affecting almost a million families or five million individuals.”
It also urged the appropriate Senate committees to conduct an investigation into the impending liberalization of the sugar industry.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri thanked his colleagues for unanimously passing Senate Resolution 213, saying liberalizing imports would be the “nail that would seal the coffin of the sugar industry.”
“When Tatak Kalamay first raised the issue a couple of months ago, I started rallying my colleagues in the Senate, knowing full well that pursuing such will greatly affect the lives and livelihood of some 84,000 farmers and more than 700,000 industry workers in over 20 provinces across the country. They (senators) heard Tatak Kalamay’s plea and for as long as we are in the Senate, we assure you of our support and protection and we also urge the economic managers to conduct proper consultation before announcing such plans,” he said.
Tatak Kalamay is a multi-sector group based in Negros Occidental composed of sugar industry stakeholders.
Instead of focusing on liberalizing the sugar industry, Zubiri proposed for the restoration of the full Sugarcane Industry Development Act (SIDA) budget in order to make the industry competitive globally.
Under the law, PHP2 billion will be given yearly to the sugar industry –15 percent or PHP300 million for block farm grants; 15 percent for research and development, capability building and technology transfer; 15 percent for socialized credits to be implemented by Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) for farm support and mechanization; 5 percent or PHP100 million for scholarship grants and human resources development programs; and 50 percent for infrastructure development programs for farm to mill roads, irrigation and transport infrastructure.
However, the Department of Budget and Management slashed the SIDA budget from PHP2 billion in 2016 to only PHP500 million this year due to underutilization or underspending.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar has committed to review the memorandum of agreement with government agencies and the private sector on the implementation of the SIDA law.
“We will see to it that the sugar industry will be more productive, competitive, and profitable,” Dar said in a text message to reporters. (PNA).