‘Boycott Coke, oust Piñol’

UNIFED President Manuel Lamata (left photo) pours out the content of softdrink in can to dramatize his protest against a giant beverage firm for using High Fructose Corn Syrup as sweetener instead of local sugar. Placard bearing protesters (right) hold a rally in front of the bottling plant in Barangay Mansilingan on Mar. 20, 2017. (D. Yasa photos)

BACOLOD City – Nearly 6,000 stakeholders of the sugar industry called for a boycott of all products of beverage giant Coca- Cola and the ouster of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol in a rally March 20, 2017 in front of the company’s Bacolod bottling plant.

Manuel Lamata, president of the United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines (UNIFED) said the Sugar Alliance of the Philippines plans to bring the mass action to the national offices of the Department of Agriculture in Quezon City and Coke headquarters in Taguig City.

They also plan to push for an immediate Senate investigation into the use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or corn sugar by beverage firms.

“We cannot take this sitting down just for the sake of their own profit,” Lamata said.

He added that they “cannot comprehend why Agriculture Sec. Manny Piñol would side with foreign multi-national companies.”

“It will be a long fight but we will fight,” he stressed.

He said they will seek a dialogue with Piñol and ask for an explanation.

“We met with President Rodrigo Duterte with the help of Bukidnon Governor Jose Zubiri in Davao where he promised to help the sugar industry with our problem on high fructose corn syrup. Pinol was not there,” Lamata said.

Francis de la Rama, president of the Confederation of Sugar Producers Inc. (CONFED) called for “unity among the stakeholders of the sugar industry.”

Environment group Green Alert Negros also called for a ban on HFCS which they claimed has genetically modified organism “that is harmful to health of humans and causes obesity and diabetes.”

Sugar planter groups from Panay and Negros Oriental also sent representatives to the protest action.

Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, Bacolod Councilor Cindy Rojas, Bago City Mayor Nicolas Yulo and Murcia Vice Mayor Jerry Rojas read letters of support of their organizations for Sugar Order 3 and the stand of the sugar industry.

Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Maranon Jr., in a phone call to Lamata, said he supports their cause.

“He also told me that he will ask the Sanggunian Panlalawigan to pass a resolution during their regular session on Wednesday this week not to ask Coke to be a sponsor during the annual Panaad Festival of the province as well as a ban on the selling of Coke products during the duration of the event,” he added.

Pontevedera Mayor Jose Maria Alonzo also read a letter from Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri.

“I would like to express my support to my fellow Negrenses on this day as you hold your protest action against those who are favoring the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) over our organically grown sugar,” Zubiri said.

He said that he, along with Senators Cynthia Villar and Richard Gordon and other senators “who feel the plight of our sugar farmers who have been affected by the unabated entry of HFCS in the country, we promise to fast-track the Senate inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the impact this will cause to our sugar industry.”

Zubiri also “condemned and would like to remind Agriculture Sec. Manny Piñol to revisit his mandate and protect the agriculture sector and the small farmers instead of taking the side of foreign interests”

The rallyists also burned a big effigy of a Coke bottle with the head of Pinol.

The three-hour program caused a major traffic jam in the area that stretched more than five kilometers along Murcia- Alijis highway which is the entrance into Bacolod City from the east.

In the press conference, National Federation of Sugar Planters (NFSP) president Enrique Rojas told reporters that the court hearing the case filed by Coca Cola against the Sugar Regulatory Administration has denied the petition to intervene filed by several sectors.

The hearing on the case on Mar. 20 was also reset.

Earlier, the court denied the Temporary Restraining Order filed by Coca Cola against the implementation of SRA’s Sugar Order No. 3 which regulates the entry of HFCS in the country and classifying the same as reserved sugar.

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