October 10, 2019
THE Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food on Wednesday asked the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to take a strong stand against the proposed liberalization of sugar imports, which could lead to the displacement of local sugar farmers.
“What is deafening…is the silence of the Department of Agriculture and the SRA on the position of sugar liberalization,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said during the DA’s budget hearing at the Senate. “We need a strong voice. We do not want to happen [to sugar] what had happened to rice.”
He pointed to Agriculture Secretary William Dar and SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, who are yet to make their sentiments toward the issue known after the Department of Finance (DoF) issued on September 27 an economic bulletin calling for the removal of quantitative restrictions on sugar imports.
“We should not let the liberalization of the sugar industry happen. Not at this time. We have no way to compete with our [regional] neighbors,” Zubiri said.
The lawmaker also said there was a need for the Senate committee, along with the DA and SRA, to “reformulate” and “recalibrate” its position against the planned liberalization.
Meanwhile, Sen. Cynthia Villar, who leads the panel, blamed the SRA for failing to directly allocate sugar imports to players in the food-processing industry.
“The reason…they want to liberalize was because [the] SRA was given the power to import, because of the high prices of local sugar controlled by the traders. But the SRA gave it to traders and not to users. So they are now the ones lobbying to the DoF to liberalize” sugar imports, she said.
She urged the DA and the SRA to further develop the production capacity of five major sugar-producing provinces, which account for 90 percent of the country’s sugar output: Negros Occidental (55 percent), Bukidnon (15 percent), Batangas (10 percent), Iloilo (5 percent) and Negros Oriental (5 percent).
Doing so, Villar said, will increase the overall competitiveness of the local sugar industry.
For his part, Dar gave the assurance that the DA and SRA will work together to address the issues facing the sugar industry.
“In the last two months, we had a number of board meetings already in making [the] SRA work in a much better passion with more efficiency and effectiveness,” Dar said.
As the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) has not been properly implemented since its passage in 2015, Dar said he had instructed the SRA to craft an action plan “to accelerate the utilization of what is allocated for the [SIDA].”
For this year and next, SIDA’s allocation was at P500 million, down from P1 billion in 2018, P1.5 million in 2017 and P2 billion in 2016.
SIDA aims to boost the production of sugarcane and sugar, and increase the income of sugarcane farmers or planters and farm workers.
The Agriculture secretary also committed to craft a position paper on the pros and cons of sugar import liberalization. It will be submitted to the Senate panel.
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