By Maya M. Padillo, Correspondent
Marifi S. Jara, Mindanao Bureau Chief

DAVAO CITY — Legislation declaring the Davao region the cacao and chocolate capital of the Philippines has provoked opposition from other cacao growing regions, who instead proposed more inclusive branding declaring the Philippines as the country of origin for exports.

Val D. Turtur, president of the Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao, Inc. and former chair of the Philippine Cacao Industry Council (PCIC), said the approval of Senate Bill (SB) No. 1741 “will get the attention of the international community that the National Government is supportive of the cacao industry,” while gaining the region’s farmers some leverage on pricing.

The House version of the legislation, House Bill No. 7460, was approved on final reading in January. After the bills are harmonized by a bicameral conference committee, it will go up for signing by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, a Davao City native.

The PCIC, chaired by Armi Lopez-Garcia who is chief executive officer of Cebu-based Tablea Chocolate, filed a position paper in January opposing the declaration, citing its negative impact on other areas in the country that are being developed for cacao production.

“The bill, if passed into a law, will negatively impact the cacao industry development road map. It is for this reason that PCIC, the official voice of the Philippine Cacao Industry, in its General Assembly on Jan. 27, 2021, unanimously opposed SB No. 1741.  Unfortunately, the Senate chose to ignore the unanimous desire of the whole cacao industry,” Ms. Garcia said in an e-mail interview.

She said the PCIC will be discussing whether it will lobby for a veto.

“The President is from Davao, but if the President looks at the national development of the cacao industry, he may just rise above Davao’s interests and see the interest of the country as a whole,” she said.

Senator Cynthia A. Villar, author of the Senate bill and chair of the Senate agriculture committee, said in a Feb. 9 statement that the bill “simply gives recognition for the pioneering, outstanding collective contribution of the cacao farmers (in Davao) who supply dry cacao beans to the processors and manufacturers.”

She also said the bill aims to make Davao City and the Davao Region “an inspiration and a benchmark” for other local governments, noting that the region accounted for about 79% of the country’s cacao output.

Rex Victor P. Puentespina, farmer and chocolate maker at Davao City-based Malagos Agri-Ventures Corp., said the recognition makes Davao Region as the “flag bearer of sought-after fine flavor cacao beans.”

“Programs for the farmers must follow after the recognition to make it more sustainable. It’s the private sector and the farmers who really worked hard for Davao Region to be recognized,” Mr. Puentespina said in a phone interview.

“We always emphasize this to the farmers; since we are now on the radar, they should level up and produce more to strengthen our presence in the international scene at para hindi masayang ang lahat (so we don’t waste what we have worked hard for),” he added.

Under the cacao road map, the government set a production goal of 100,000 metric tons (MT) by 2022, pushed back from the original target year of 2020.

Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data show cacao production has increased at an average annual rate of 9% from 6,030 MT in 2015 to 8,490 MT in 2019. In the last quarter of 2020, the PSA reported that Davao Region “remained the major producer of cacao” with an 82% share of national output.

“We are thankful that finally the National Government has recognized the efforts of the cacao farmers and growers in Davao City and Davao Region. Hopefully, President Duterte will sign it… We are now on the radar of all chocolate makers around the world as a fine flavor cocoa bean producer,” Mr. Puentespina said.

Ms. Garcia said the national council is “not against recognizing Davao’s achievements… And Davao deserves it” but a Presidential proclamation, rather than a law, would be more appropriate.

“We don’t think that it is Congress’s role to pass laws declaring product capitals.  Also, the product capitals may change; then they would need to repeal a previous law and pass a new one. Congress has better and more urgent things to do,” she said.

“Would it not be better,” she added, to develop a Philippine branding that positions the country as the “quality cacao” capital of the world?