DISMAYED La­bor doubts Duterte will lis­ten to stake­hold­ers, says Piñol not de­fend­ing the PH sugar in­dus­try

Sun Star Bacolod - - Front Page - BY ERWIN P. NICAVERA

EX­PRESS­ING dis­may on the re­sult of the re­cent Sugar In­dus­try Stake­hold- ers’ Sum­mit, the la­bor sec­tor in Negros Oc­ci­den­tal doubts that Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte will lis­ten to the sen­ti­ments of the stake­hold­ers.

Wen­nie San­cho, con­venor of Save the Sugar In­dus­try Move­ment (SSIM), yes­ter­day said the two-day sum­mit held at the Bu­reau of Soils and Wa­ter Man­age­ment in Que­zon City is an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity.

San­cho, who at­tended the sum­mit, said they are dismayed as the voice of the work­ers and agrar­ian re­form ben­e­fi­cia­ries (ARBS) were not am­pli­fied. In fact, their man­i­festos were not even read, he said.

It can be re­called that Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Em­manuel Piñol, at the side­lines of the sum­mit, told re­porters that he can­not con­vince the eco­nomic man­agers. In­stead, they will just re­lay the sen­ti­ments of the stake­hold­ers to Duterte.

“Given such state­ment from Piñol, we feel that the Pres­i­dent would lis­ten more to the eco­nomic man­agers rather than to the stake­hold­ers,” he said, adding that “the agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary has no enough

courage to rep­re­sent the sugar in­dus­try stake­hold­ers to the Cab­i­net.”

Cit­ing its detri­men­tal ef­fects to the sugar in­dus­try, the stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing block farms, ARBS and work­ers, planters fed­er­a­tion and as­so­ci­a­tions, sugar millers, re­fin­ers, bioethanol pro­duc­ers and bagasse-based power gen­er­a­tors in the coun­try adopted a res­o­lu­tion ex­press­ing their col­lec­tive stand against the pro­posed lib­er­al­iza­tion or dereg­u­la­tion of sugar im­por­ta­tion.

As he echoed the po­si­tion of the stake­hold­ers, Piñol said they re­main neu­tral on the is­sue as the agency is part of the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Though, he said, “the Pres­i­dent al­ways lis­ten.”

This, how­ever, has not sat­is­fied the la­bor sec­tor.

San­cho, also the sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Gen­eral Al­liance of Work­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (Gawa), said it seems that Piñol is not pro­tect­ing the in­dus­try which he man­i­fested dur­ing the 1st Philip­pine Sug­ar­cane Farm Mech­a­niza­tion Expo in Ba­colod City last year.

San­cho said that be­ing close to the Pres­i­dent, the agri­cul­ture chief should sup­posed to have a sphere of in­flu­ence to con­vince the eco­nomic man­agers. But it only shows that the ex­tent of his in­flu­ence rather is limited.

“The sum­mit was more of an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity be­cause it did not serve the pur­pose of de­fend­ing the in­ter­est of the stake­hold­ers of the sugar in­dus­try,” he stressed, adding that given such re­sult and ges­ture of Piñol “it seems that sugar im­port lib­er­al­iza­tion will re­ally push through.”

It can be re­called that the op­po­si­tions stemmed from the pro­nounce­ment of Budget Sec­re­tary Ben­jamin Dio­kno that there is a need to “re­lax” the rules on sugar im­por­ta­tion that puts pres­sure on the do­mes­tic econ­omy to com­pete with the rest of the world.

Sugar in the Philip­pines, he said, is very ex­pen­sive com­pared with global prices so they plan to dereg­u­late the in­dus­try prob­a­bly this year.

For the la­bor sec­tor, how­ever, such pro­posal has failed to con­sider the sen­ti­ments of the stake­hold­ers es­pe­cially farm­ers and work­ers who will greatly suf­fer if the sugar in­dus­try col­lapses.

Aside from two man­i­festos of the la­bor sec­tor, the Provin­cial Gov­ern­ment of Negros Oc­ci­den­tal also passed a res­o­lu­tion op­pos­ing the pro­posed im­port scheme for sugar.

Even the Se­nate has backed such op­po­si­tion by pass­ing a res­o­lu­tion last week call­ing on the Ex­ec­u­tive Depart­ment to abort such an “un­timely and ir­rel­e­vant” mea­sure in or­der to safe­guard the econ­omy and wel­fare of sugar farm­ers and work­ers in 28 prov­inces in the coun­try in­clud­ing Negros Oc­ci­den­tal.

For the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, mean­while, the Visayan Bloc has yet to come out with an of­fi­cial stand against the pro­posed sugar lib­er­al­iza­tion.

On Feb­ru­ary 6, Ba­colod City Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Greg Gasa­taya man­i­fested his op­po­si­tion on the pro­posed sugar lib­er­al­iza­tion dur­ing a priv­i­lege speech.

Amid all these op­po­si­tion-moves, the lo­cal la­bor sec­tor said there is a need to brace for the in­com­ing storm.

“While we are hop­ing for the best, we should pre­pare for the worst,” San­cho said, adding that once the Rice Tar­if­fi­ca­tion Bill be­comes a law, it sig­nals that the sugar will be next.

He added, “when the de­ci­sion of the eco­nomic man­agers be­comes de­struc­tive for the sugar in­dus­try, it is the right of the farmer-work­ers to op­pose and re­sist that de­ci­sion in or­der to cre­ate new guards for their fu­ture eco­nomic se­cu­rity.”*

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