October 4, 2019
Carla P. Gomez (The Visayan Daily Star) | https://bit.ly/2p0qGag
Lawmakers, led by Rep. Francisco “Kiko” Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District) and Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano (Abang Lingkod), yesterday assailed a recent pronouncement of the Department of Finance to liberalize sugar importation.
The two Negros solons, joined by 19 others, on Wednesday filed House Resolution No. 412, warning that the sugar import liberalization move threatens to kill the domestic sugar industry.
House Resolution 412 expressing the strong opposition of the House of Representatives to the planned liberalization or deregulation of the importation of sugar, is geared toward safeguarding the welfare of sugar farmers, and farm and mill workers across 28 provinces in the country, Benitez and Paduano said yesterday.
The DOF, in an economic bulletin released September 27, said the quantitative restrictions on sugar imports have raised the price of sugar in thecountry, penalizing consumers and deterring the growth of food and beverageindustries that rely on sugar.
But the lawmakers said the liberalization or deregulation of sugar importation will adversely affect the livelihood of 84,000 sugar farmers and 720,000 industry workers, undermining President Rodrigo Duterte’s vision of inclusive growth for the country.
The sugar industry, valued at P120 billion annually, contributes P4.5 billion in value-added taxes, P37 billion in excise taxes, and P6.9 billion in corporate income and real estate taxes, Benitez and Paduano also pointed out.
“Negros, in particular, is reeling from the pains of the industry struggling to modernize. The economic viability of small sugar farms, cultivated by beneficiaries of agrarian reform, remain tenuous because of the insufficiency and inefficiency of government support,” Benitez said.
“Programs designed to help the industry diversify and modernize are underfunded, and 93 percent of agrarian reform beneficiaries wait for thepromised support,” he added.
Benitez, vice chairperson of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, said that their group will seek a congressional inquiry to identify bottlenecks in the implementation of programs to help sugar farmers, 90 percent of whom are agrarian reform beneficiaries, and determine remedial interventions by the Sugar Regulatory Administration to manage importation under existing rules and regulations.
Deputy Minority Leader Paduano also pointed out that the sugar industry is givenlow support by the government.
“Republic Act No. 10659 or the Sugar Industry Development Act earmarks P2 billion annually for programs to revitalize the sugar industry. The sugar industry also contributed around 39 percent of total TRAIN revenues in 2018. However, for 2019, only P565 million was allocated for SIDA programs and only P500 million for 2020,” Paduano said.
“It adds insult to injury that, instead of supporting the domestic sugar industry, theDOF is pushing for liberalization which will exacerbate the ills of the industry,” he added.
Sugar liberalization will further hinder the growth of small farms and could aggravatethe brewing peasant unrest in some parts of Negros, Paduano warned.
“Have we not learned from the negative impact of liberalization on local rice farmers? We cannot and will not allow more suffering, this time of our sugar farmers,” Paduano said.
The resolution also said it is not correct to compare local sugar prices with world market prices because the world sugar exporting countries such as Thailand and India, sell their excess sugar at below production cost.
Major sugar exporting countries can afford to dump their excess sugar production in the word market because they provide massive subsidies and other forms of protection, such as domestic and export support prices, to their sugar farmers and sugar industries, the resolution said.
Filipino sugar farmers – most of whom are small farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries – get minimal support and cannot afford to sell their sugar below cost, the resolution added.
The United States of America, which is the champion of globalization and liberalization has a long standing policy to strictly regulate sugar importation to shield its farmers from the distortions in the world sugar market prices, it said.
The liberalization of sugar importation will not affect the competitiveness of sugar containing food products manufactured in the Philippines because they can already import sugar without value added tax or customs duties provided that the end-product is exported or no sold locally, the resolution said.
It also pointed out that notwithstanding the drop in mill site prices of sugar, retail prices remained high, and in some supermarkets well-above the suggested retail prices, which means that consumers will not benefit from liberalization or deregulation of sugar importation but only the tradersand importers.
Among the 19 other co-authors of House Resolution, those from Negros Island, aside from Benitez and Paduano, are Representatives Gerardo Valmayor Jr. (1st District), Leo Rafael Cueva (2nd District), Juliet Marie Ferrer (4th District), Ma. Lourdes Arroyo (5th District) and Genaro Alvarez (6th District) of Negros Occidental; Jocelyn Limkaichong (1st District), Manuel Sagarbarria (2nd District) and Rep. ArnulfoTeves Jr. (3rd District) of Negros Oriental; and Greg Gasataya of Bacolod.
Manuel Lamata , United Sugar Producers' Federation of the Philippines president, said “UNIFED would like to thank Cong Benitez for rallying the congressmen to pass a resolution condemning the liberalization of the sugar industry.”
“The sugar industry expresses its deep gratitude to the brave representatives, particularly to Rep. Kiko Benitez (Negros Occ., 3rd District), for standing up for the sugarcane farmers and sugar workers by opposing the Department of Finance’s proposal to liberalize sugar importation,” Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, also said yesterday.
“We call on our friends at the Senate to also pass a similar resolution in support of the sugar industry,” Rojas added.
The resolution was authored by 21 representatives not only from the Visayas region, which accounts for the large majority of national sugar production, but also from representatives of sugar-producing districts in Luzon and Mindanao, Rojas noted.
“The resolution is a welcome boost for the Confederation of Sugar Producers campaign against sugar liberalization. We are appreciative of Congressman Kiko’s efforts as well the others who signed the resolution. Thank you in behalf of Confed and all stakeholders,” Nicolas Ledesma Jr., Confed Negros and Panay chapter chairman, said.
The Philippine Millers Association, in a separate statement , lauded the representatives from the sugar-producing provinces for their support.
“We are grateful for the support given the sugar industry . They have defended us from the time we were fighting for the passage of the Sugar Industry Development Act and for the increase in excise taxes on sweetened beverages using imported high fructose corn syrup,” Jesus “Cocoy” Barrera, PSMA executive director, said.*