TALISAY CITY, Negros Occidental. – Lawmakers from Negros and other sugar-producing regions will hold a congressional inquiry on the economic development cluster’s proposal to liberalize sugar importation when sessions resume next month.
“It is not yet the time to liberalize since we are not yet ready to compete as other countries producing sugar are well-subsidized. The playing field is not yet level to compete with them,” said Rep. Gerardo Valmayor Jr. of the first district of Negros Occidental.
Valmayor told reporters over the weekend the inquiry will also resolve problems plaguing the implementation of the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) which is meant to help the sugar industry to be competitive.
SIDA calls for a P2-billion annual fund starting 2016 but allocations had been on a steady decline because it is not being utilized efficiently.
This is due to the inability of farmers to comply with tedious requirements of banks for loans.
Rep. Greg Gasataya of the lone district of Bacolod, said the inquiry will invite not just officials of the Department of Agriculture and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) but also of agencies under the economic development cluster as well as of industry associations.
Rep. Francisco Benitez of the third district of Negros Occidental, said instead of opening the sugar industry, government should further strengthen the SRA to help improve the industry’s performance.
“If the SRA is functioning properly, with proper predictions of production and if they have a better grasp of the industry’s state… the mechanisms are there to address the needs of consumers, retailers, industrial users and obviously planters and millers… Rather than liberalize, just make sure SRA is functioning properly,” Benitez said.
Wennie Sancho, Sugar Watch Philippines secretary general, called on SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica to have a firm stand on the issue of the planned sugar liberalization.
Sancho said to date, Serafica has not issued any statement to support or oppose the economic managers’ plans for the industry.
Arnel Toreja, Luzon Federation of Sugarcane Growers Association chief, said without the proper help from authorities, sugar farmers will continue to be lured to selling off their land to commercial developers.
In a separate statement, Serafica said he reported to the economic development cluster last week the supply in bottler’s-grade sugar was augmented by the recent sugar import program under Sugar Order no. 5 series of 2018-2019.
“The mechanism, volu and timing are important factors to consider in any importation and will undergo exhaustive consultations with industry stakeholders. Nevertheless, it is emphasized that importation shall be resorted to only when necessary. SRA shall be focusing more to improve production and productivity to lessen, if not avoid importation,” Serafica said.