THE sugar industry is batting for the revival of the Philippine Sugar Corp. (Philsucor), a government company abolished by President Rodrigo R. Duterte last year.
“(Stakeholders) passed a resolution to revive the Philippine Sugar Corp. because they said they are having difficulty in accessing loans from Land Bank,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol told reporters on the sidelines of the second day of the Sugarcane Stakeholders Summit in Quezon City on Tuesday.
“They feel that Philsucor was more responsive to their needs and was faster in releasing funds,” Mr. Piñol added.
In October 2018, Mr. Duterte through a memorandum order, abolished Philsucor, noting that the company was no longer effectively performing its duties and that its functions overlap with the responsibilities of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).
Mr. Piñol added that funds from the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) are not being utilized properly.
“We came up with measures and I would like SRA to amend this. Instead of bidding for tractors, the funds should be turned over to the farmers instead, guided by agency estimates on how much a tractor costs. It should just be released to the farmers’ association so that they can buy their own equipment, and no longer have to go through the long bidding process of the government,” Mr. Piñol said.
Mr. Piñol even noted that specific funds were allocated for fertilizer to farmers in Cagayan Valley in 2016, with procurement still ongoing after three failed bids.
“If that is the case, then we are depriving people of services from the government. In 2019, we will start with the immediate and direct turnover of funds to farmer associations,” Mr. Piñol said.
Mr. Piñol said that these measures were deemed necessary by stakeholders who are opposing the liberalization of the sugar industry.
In a position paper, the Confederation of Sugar Producers (CONFED) said a majority of sugar farmers are Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs), and pushing for liberalization will only increase their poverty.
“It is ironic that the government, after providing the opportunity for these former sugar workers to become producers through the agrarian reform law will — through these economic managers — consign them once more to poverty by concocting this liberalization plan from the comforts of their air-conditioned offices,” according to the position paper.
Food processors have been asking the government to allow the removal of quantitative restrictions (QR) on sugar importation, claiming that prices of food and beverages using sugar will rise without alternatives to expensive domestic sugar.
“We call on the beverage companies to moderate their greed and have some heart for an industry that is also part of their consumer chain. Last year, these beverage companies publicly acknowledged that they are ‘partners’ of the sugar industry and that ‘the small farmers are the most vulnerable and in need of support,’ thus their desire to help ‘improve their lives and provide better opportunities for our farmers and their families.’ However, these sentiments are belied by their lobbying to liberalize imports,” CONFED said. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio