The Philippine Star

Lu­zon farm­ers join call vs sugar im­port lib­er­al­iza­tion

- By GIL­BERT BAYORAN Agriculture · Industries · Democratic Alliance (South Africa) · Philippines Department of Finance · Juan Miguel Zubiri

BACOLOD CITY – Sugar farm­ers in Lu­zon joined the fray in putting pres­sure on the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (DA) and the Sugar Reg­u­la­tory Ad­min­is­tra­tion (SRA) to pro­tect the sugar in­dus­try and pre­vent the planned im­port lib­er­al­iza­tion an­nounced by eco­nomic man­agers.

The DA and SRA were ear­lier urged by Sen. Juan Miguel Zu­biri to make a stand on sugar im­port lib­er­al­iza­tion, amid what he calls their “deaf­en­ing si­lence” on the is­sue.

Former SRA board mem­ber Lito Sandoval even chided SRA ad­min­is­tra­tor Hermenegil­do Ser­afica who ear­lier said his per­sonal stand was for the farm­ers but will take his “guid­ance” from Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Wil­liam Dar.

“What guid­ance does he (Ser­afica) need? Isn’t it clear to him yet that any im­port lib­er­al­iza­tion pro­gram will be dis­as­trous to the in­dus­try? Is he now telling us that he ac­tu­ally does not know what he is do­ing,?” Sandoval said, ad­ding that “it doesn’t take that much to un­der­stand that un­con­trolled im­por­ta­tion will kill us and de­stroy the lives of five mil­lion Filipinos who de­pend on the sugar in­dus­try.”

Task Force Kala­may, an um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion of sugar fed­er­a­tions, millers, la­bor, farm­ers and agrar­ian re­form ben­e­fi­cia­ries, sought in­ter­ven­tion from Se­nate al­lies amid the pro­posal from the Depart­ment of Fi­nance to lib­er­al­ize the sugar in­dus­try fol­low­ing the rice in­dus­try.

Lu­zon Fed­er­a­tion head Ar­nel Tor­reja also echoed Sandoval’s sen­ti­ments ad­ding that thou­sands of sugar farm­ers in Lu­zon are get­ting “rest­less” in the face of the “deaf­en­ing si­lence” from the DA and SRA.

“We have been told that our new DA has close ties with the eco­nomic man­agers, but we con­tinue to be­lieve that over and above that, his heart re­mains in pro­tect­ing the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try as that is what he is known for, as an agri­cul­tural ex­pert,” Tor­reja said.

“It is time for the SRA head to flex his mus­cles and show us some sem­blance of lead­er­ship. Enough is enough with this dilly-dal­ly­ing. If you (Ser­afica) do not have it in you to pro­tect the very in­dus­try that you vowed to serve, then it’s time to hang your hat and give it to some­one who can truly lead the sugar in­dus­try,” Tor­reja added.

Zu­biri ear­lier said Dar may have been un­der pres­sure from the fi­nance man­agers who seem to be dic­tat­ing the pol­icy when it comes to move­ments in the gov­ern­ment pro­grams and projects.

Ser­afica dis­closed that he was in­structed by Dar to come up with a po­si­tion pa­per list­ing the pros and cons on the pro­posed sugar im­port lib­er­al­iza­tion, which may af­fect about five mil­lion peo­ple, as sugar in­dus­try lead­ers have warned.

He added that they are do­ing a bal­anc­ing act on what is good for the farm­ers and con­sumers, when asked about their stand on sugar im­port lib­er­al­iza­tion.*

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