Sugar caucus seeks probe into import liberalization

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BACOLOD CITY — Legislators from sugar-growing provinces will conduct an inquiry next month into the government’s proposals to liberalize sugar imports, a Congressman from Negros said.

“After the recess, we the Congress will call for an inquiry,” Negros Occidental First District Rep. Gerardo P. Valmayor, said during a news conference Saturday in Bacolod City. He is a member of the Visayas Development Committee, which handles all concerns and programs affecting the municipalities, cities, and provinces of the Visayas regions.

“All of those in the sugar industry, which includes SRA (Sugar Regulatory Administration), DA (Department of Agriculture)… the Department of Finance (DoF), we really also have to hear from them bakit kailangan natin ng (why we need) liberalization,” he said, adding that it was important to avoid disruptions in the sugar industry similar to those seen in the rice industry after imports of the staple grain were liberalized.

About 67% of the country’s sugar production is accounted for by Negros Occidental.

The SRA estimates that as of Oct. 13, the average mill site price of sugar is P1,515.53 per 50–kilo bag. Since the beginning of the 2019–2020 crop year, it has been consistently above the P1,500-level. Cost of producing sugar in the country is at about P1,300 per 50-kilo bag.

The DoF formally proposed the liberalization of sugar imports on Sept. 27 in order to help the food processing industry be more competitive, citing the high domestic price of sugar which is double the world market price.

The inquiry will also discuss the under utilization of the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) fund, which should be funded at P2 billion annually, though the government has reduced its support due to the SRA’s under spending.

“‘Yung SIDA maganda (SIDA is good). It’s very good to improve the industry, bloc farming, farm-to-market, research. Maraming (Many programs are) well implemented but marami ring hindi (there are also many not) well implemented. If we (improve fund usage), that will capacitate our farmers to compete,” Mr. Valmayor told reporters after the briefing.

The sugar industry has warned that import liberalization will harm an industry employing about 5 million people directly or indirectly, many of them agrarian reform beneficiaries or farmers owning five hectares or less.

The inquiry will also serve as a way for the representatives to hear SRA Administrator Hermenegildo R. Serafica side regarding the proposed sugar liberalization.

In a senate budget hearing in October, Mr. Serafica was asked by senators about his position on import liberalization. He said that he will be seeking guidance of the Agriculture Secretary, William D. Dar.

Ang paghihintay sa sagot, baka patay na ang kabayo ‘pag dumating na ang damo… baka mayroon kaming hakbang na gawin para mapilitan sumagot (it might be too late by the time he comes up with a position… We might have a way to force him to answer)” Negros Occidental Federation of Farmers Association (NOFFA) Chairman Enrique Tayo said during the briefing.

Ang alam natin sa Batangas, ‘pag ikaw ay isang ama, ikaw ang nagpapatupad ng tama. Ngayon, parang tayong walang ama (Our understanding in Batangas is that if you are the father, you need to lead and do what is right. It’s like the industry has no father at the moment),” Luzon Federation of Sugarcane Growers and Associations (LUZONFED) Chairman Cornelio V. Toreja said.

In a statement, Mr. Serafica said that the sugar board will only look into sugar imports when it sees the need to augment supply.

“SRA shall be focusing more to improve production and productivity to lessen, if not avoid importation…. I, together with DA Secretary William Dar and the rest of the sugar board will always listen to the stakeholders,” he said. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang