THE Senate unanimously passed a resolution opposing the liberalization of sugar imports, citing the potential impact on more than 800,000 sugar farmers and workers across 20 provinces.

Senate Resolution No. 213 states that liberalizing imports will not make the food industry more competitive, adding that the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) allows sugar imports tax and duty free if the resulting products are exported.

The Department of Finance (DoF) officially proposed the liberalization of sugar imports in September to help the food processing industry be more competitive in the global market.

“As it is hereby resolved by the Senate to urge the appropriate Senate Committee to conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, into the impending liberalization of the sugar industry with the end view of safeguarding the welfare of 84,000 sugar farmers and 720,000 industry workers in twenty provinces,” it said.

The deregulation of the industry is also expected to be “disastrous” for the sugar industry, which accounts for about P96 billion to gross domestic product (GDP). It said sugar farmers are mostly small and agrarian reform beneficiaries tilling less than a hectare.

The major sugar-producing provinces include Cagayan, Isabela, Tarlac, Pampanga, Batangas, Cavite, Camarines Sur, Leyte, Iloilo, Capiz, Antique, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, North Cotabato, Davao del Sur, and Bukidnon.

“This proposal of the economic managers is actually contradicting the thrust of our President Rodrigo (R.) Duterte towards food security and sustainable Philippine agriculture,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said in a statement.

He added that instead of the economic team focusing on liberalizing the industry, it should instead ensure the full implementation of the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) to fund projects to make the sugar industry more competitive.

The resolution also noted the underutilization of the SIDA fund, which points to a course of action as an alternative liberalization.

“The SIDA of 2015 is barely four years into effect, and many of the programs and projects it envisions to implement for the development of the sugar industry are not yet fully realized. Thus any plan of liberalizing the sugar industry becomes irrelevant and very untimely,” it said.

The annual budget that should be allotted for SIDA is P2 billion starting 2016. However, after its 2016 budget was underspent, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) reduced funding to P1.5 billion in 2017, and to P500 million in 2018 and 2019. For 2020, its proposed budget is P67 million.

Sugar stakeholder group Tatak Kalamay said it welcomes the Senate’s support for the sugar industry.

“The overwhelming support of our senators will hopefully allay fears of our stakeholders that the proposed liberalization of the sugar industry as announced by the economic managers will not only be suspended for six months to a year, but will never happen for as long as we have senators who continue to champion the plight of sugar producers and workers, including the millions of others who are dependent on this industry,” SRA Board Sugar Producers Representative Emilio Bernardino L. Yulo said in a separate statement. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang