Senators buck sugar deregulation
A group of lawmakers has signed a senate resolution calling on President Duterte not to push through with the deregulation of sugar trade, noting its effects on more than 20 provinces in the country that rely on the commodity.
A Senate investigation is also underway to look into the effects of the proposed sugar liberalization, which the administration’s economic team said would bring down retail prices of sugar and enable food processing industries to be more competitive.
Senate Resolution No. 213 was signed on Monday evening and added to the growing opposition to the proposal. Other stakeholders who bucked the move included sugar workers, farmers, food processors, millers and several labor groups.
“[The] deregulated entry of subsidized sugar into the Philippine market will be disastrous to our sugar industry, which contributes an estimated P96 billion to the gross domestic product, particularly to 84,000 farmers—mostly small farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries, with each farmer tilling less than a hectare of sugar farm land—and 720,000 industry workers directly affecting almost a million families or 5 million individuals,” the resolution said.
“[The policy] will not affect the competitiveness of sugar-containing food products for export because it is already a policy of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (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 added.
Signatories included senators who were supported by sugar coalition group Tatak Kalamay during the last reelection, among them Miguel Zubiri, Sherwin Gatchalian, Joel Villanueva, Richard Gordon, Christopher “Bong” Go and Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.
Other senators who gave their support were a mix of Duterte allies, independents and members of the opposition, including Senators Cynthia Villar, Juan Edgardo Angara, Nancy Binay, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, Vicente Sotto III, Ralph Recto, Pia Cayetano, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Imee Marcos, Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Francis Tolentino.
Sugar farmers and workers are scattered in more than 20 provinces across the country—Cagayan, Isabela, Tarlac, Pampanga, Batangas, Cavite, Camarines Sur, Cebu, Leyte, Iloilo, Capiz, Antique, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, North Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Bukidnon, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Sur and parts of Pangasinan, Kalinga and Abra.
Lawmakers warned that the impending liberalization of the industry could increase poverty incidence in these areas and eventually turn them into “hotbeds of insurgency and criminality.”
They added that “the proposed liberalization of the sugar industry will contradict the President’s thrust toward food security and will severely affect the entire agriculture sector.”
Instead of liberalizing the sugar industry, lawmakers said the government should strengthen the Sugar Industry Development Act (Sida) of 2015 by allowing the policy’s programs—barely four years into effect—to be fully realized.
Under Sida, programs meant to uplift the lives of sugar farmers and workers must be allocated P2 billion annually. Projects under the law include the construction of farm-to-market roads, block farms, provision of equipment, credit and scholarships.
The resolution also noted the importance of the SRA, adding that the agency should “continue to regulate the supply of sugar” pursuant to its mandate.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar and SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica have yet to publicize their stand on the matter despite proddings from Zubiri for both agencies to be vocal on the issue.
In a statement, Dar only said the agency would “see to it that the sugar industry will be more productive, competitive and profitable.”
This is the second time that a Senate resolution was passed to block the proposal to open the country to unimpeded sugar imports. The first resolution was released in February this year and was signed by Senators Zubiri, Angara, Binay, JV Ejercito, Gatchalian, Gordon, Loren Legarda, Pimentel, Villanueva and Villar.
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