By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Philippines is not yet prepared for a liberalized sugar industry as cheaper imports could hurt farmers and later kill their livelihood, Senator Grace Poe warned on Tuesday.
Poe issued the statement as she called on the government to first work on strengthening the country’s sugar industry.
Economic managers earlier proposed to deregulate the sugar sector and allow more imports, citing as reason the high prices of locally-sourced sugar compared with those of other countries.
“For me, before the government entertains the idea of liberalizing sugar imports, kailangan muna talagang palakasin ang industriya (it needs to strengthen the industry first). Kung hindi, mapapatay ang industriya, mawawala ‘yan (If not, this will kill the industry),” Poe said in an interview over a local radio station in Bacolod, Negros Occidental, the so-called “sugarbowl” of the Philippines.
Poe also appealed to the government to give chance to the implementation of the Republic Act 10659 or the Sugarcane Industry Development Act passed in 2015.
She said the law is relatively new and “is slowly, still building the sugar industry here.”
Poe recalled that law sought to promote the competitiveness of the sugarcane industry, improve farmers’ income and grant socialized credit to them as tariff on imported sugar is lowered to five percent as provided by the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement.
“The truth is the Sugarcane Industry Development Act is in its infancy. Bago magsabi ang gobyerno na i-liberalize ‘yan [ang sugar imports], alagaan muna ang industriya (Before the government decides to liberalize that, they should first take care of the industry). At least make them a little bit more competitive, put in more money and make sure that that money really reaches the farmers,” Poe stressed.
She added that said sugar yields in Thailand and other Latin American countries are better than the Philippines because of their advanced technology and more support from their government.
“Tayo hindi [competitive] kasi ‘yung ating technology hindi pa ganon kagaling. Hindi pa natin kayang makipagsabayan sa ngayon,” Poe noted.
Poe said the government should do its responsibility to fully implement the law to further strengthen the industry on the back of underspending of funds allocated under the 2015 sugar law.
“Eventually we can do it (liberalized sugar trade). Ang sinasabi ko lang sa ngayon, taasan muna natin ang yields. Let’s mechanize, let’s make sure that they form cooperatives so that they’re more empowered,” Poe proposed.
Aside from Poe, other senators are also opposed to the plan to relax the rules on sugar industry.
Eleven senators filed last month a resolution urging the Exevutive Department not to pursue the liberalization of the sugar industry to protect the economy and welfare or sugar farmers and industry workers.
The measure was authored by Sens. Sonny Angara, Bam Aquino, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Loren Legarda, Koko Pimentel, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar, and Juan Miguel Zubiri.