‘Dar sup­port­ing sugar lib­er­al­iza­tion’ alarms Negocc la­bor

Sun Star Bacolod - - Top Stories - BY ER­WIN P. NICAVERA

THE la­bor sec­tor in Ne­gros Oc­ci­den­tal has ex­pressed alarm over re­ports that new Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Wil­liam Dar is back­ing the pro­posed lib­er­al­iza­tion of the coun­try’s sugar in­dus­try.

Philip­pine Food Ex­porters Inc. (Phil­foodex) pres­i­dent Roberto Amores, in a re­port, said Dar is sup­port­ive of the lib­er­al­iza­tion scheme and in open­ing the lo­cal mar­ket to more im­ported sugar.

For the lo­cal la­bor sec­tor, Save the Sugar In­dus­try Move­ment (SSIM) Con­venor Wen­nie San­cho said such pro­nounce­ment is alarm­ing, some­thing to be feared for.

San­cho, also the sec­re­tary gen­eral of Gen­eral Al­liance of Work­ers As­so­ci­a­tions (Gawa), said sugar in­dus­try lib­er­al­iza­tion is a thing that they dreaded most. Though they al­ready have a bit of idea that af­ter the rice tar­if­fi­ca­tion law, sugar will fol­low.

“We are not ex­pect­ing that the in­com­ing agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary would be in fa­vor of sugar im­port lib­er­al­iza­tion,” he said, adding that “we thought for a while that he would adopt mea­sures pro­tect­ing the sugar in­dus­try.

On May 1, SSIM along with other la­bor, farm­ers and work­ers groups in the prov­ince launched the Sugar Watch Philip­pines in the bid to have a more col­lec­tive and stronger force against the sugar im­port lib­er­a­tion plan of the govern­ment.

For them, the pro­posed mea­sure will re­sult in ad­verse eco­nomic ef­fects es­pe­cially to about 84,000 farm­ers and 720,000 in­dus­trial work­ers in the coun­try’s sugar in­dus­try.

It can be re­called that op­po­si­tions stemmed from the pro­nounce­ment of Bud­get Sec­re­tary Ben­jamin Dio­kno that there is a need to “re­lax” the rules on 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.

Cit­ing its detri­men­tal ef­fects to the sugar in­dus­try, stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing block farms, agrar­ian re­form beneficiar­ies and work­ers, planters fed­er­a­tion and as­so­ci­a­tions, sugar millers, re­fin­ers, bioethanol pro­duc­ers, and bagasse-based power gen­er­a­tors in the coun­try have al­ready adopted a res­o­lu­tion ex­press­ing their col­lec­tive stand against the pro­posed dereg­u­la­tion of sugar im­por­ta­tion dur­ing the Sugar In­dus­try Stake­hold­ers’ Sum­mit in Que­zon City in Fe­bru­ary this year.

The lo­cal la­bor sec­tor has al­ready is­sued two op­po­si­tion man­i­festos.

Aside from which, the Pro­vin­cial Govern­ment of Ne­gros Oc­ci­den­tal also ear­lier passed a res­o­lu­tion op­pos­ing the pro­posed im­port scheme for sugar.

Even the Se­nate has backed such op­po­si­tion by pass­ing a res­o­lu­tion 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.

The res­o­lu­tion in­tro­duced and adopted by 10 sen­a­tors said the pro­posed mea­sure cre­ated a stir and fear among the sugar in­dus­try stake­hold­ers.

Dar, in a re­port, said he will still study the pro­posal and that he needs to meet with the of­fi­cials of the Sugar Reg­u­la­tory Ad­min­is­tra­tion (SRA) first.

If this is the case, San­cho said sugar work­ers and pro­duc­ers might pre­pare them­selves for what­ever mea­sures that need to be taken in or­der to de­fend the sur­vival of the sugar in­dus­try.

The la­bor group, he said, is plan­ning to meet with the farm­ers and work­ers to dis­cuss the prob­lem.

San­cho said this is an im­pend­ing dis­as­ter to the sugar in­dus­try, par­tic­u­larly in Ne­gros as they have al­ready ex­pressed in sev­eral fo­rums.

“We hope he (Dar) will be ap­praised by the stake­hold­ers of the sugar in­dus­try,” he said, adding that “it is im­por­tant that the new sec­re­tary with all due re­spect should also con­sult the stake

hold­ers.”

So what­ever po­si­tion he may have at the mo­ment might be re­con­sid­ered amid many con­cerns raised be­fore, the la­bor leader also said.

In a state­ment ear­lier, the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Sugar Pro­duc­ers As­so­ci­a­tions (Con­fed) opposed the call of the food pro­ces­sors to dereg­u­late the in­dus­try and al­low open im­por­ta­tion of sugar.

Its spokesper­son Ray­mond Mon­ti­nola said it seems that the lobby to lib­er­al­ize sugar im­por­ta­tion in the coun­try has been res­ur­rected.

This is through food pro­ces­sors and man­u­fac­tur­ers who com­prise a minis­cule mar­ket in terms of sugar us­age, he added.*

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