THE United Sugar Producers Federation (UNIFED) said the decision to import 200,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar during the peak milling season will depress prices that sugar planters can fetch for their crops.

“(It) is appalling that the very agency that is supposed to protect us seems determined to kill the industry,” UNIFED President Manuel R. Lamata said in a statement.

The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) issued Sugar Order No. 3 covering imports during crop year 2021-2022, which are intended to stabilize rising prices and augment supply in typhoon-hit areas.

“This is adding insult to injury, and the issuance of the order is very ill-timed. The one that will clearly benefit from these imports are industrial users, especially bottling companies that have been provided half of the import quota,” former Sugar Regulatory board member Emilio Bernardino L. Yulo said.

“The import volume is way too much and (should not have been announced) at this time when sugar milling is at its peak,” Mr. Yulo added.

UNIFED had been lobbying the government to cap fertilizer prices in order to contain rising input costs.

“It is very frustrating for SRA to make this import order a priority when it has not even addressed our request to urge the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to cap fertilizer costs,” Mr. Lamata said, noting that such requests were first put forward last year.

“They only see the increasing cost of sugar in the market but they do not acknowledge the forces driving those prices up and much of it can be attributed to fertilizers that almost tripled in cost and fuel that has breached the P50 per liter mark. Whatever increase in sugar prices we are seeing in the market, goes to (the) cost of farm inputs,” he added.

“We are still in a midst of a crisis, and our sugar planters in Southern Negros are still trying to recover from the effects of Odette, and here is another crisis that will hit us. We hope that SRA will reconsider and amend the order until they get a good picture from the ground as to what quantity is just needed to ensure that the industry is protected,” Mr. Yulo said.

In a separate statement, UNIFED called for the removal of the regulator’s Administrator Hermenegildo R. Serafica over the decision to import.

“We are appealing once again to President Rodrigo R. Duterte to help us and fire SRA Administrator Serafica as it seems he is working for the benefit of others instead of us,” Mr. Lamata said.

“Mr. Serafica is only there to protect the interests of the big industrials to the detriment of the Filipino people. Mr. Duterte, we are once again appealing that you help us put a stop to these machinations by the SRA and the DA. They are supposed to protect industry stakeholders but all these moves point to one thing, they are determined to kill the industry,” he added. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson