‘Find alternative to sugar import liberalization’: Zubiri

BACOLOD City — Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri on Saturday said the country’s economic managers should find an alternative to the proposed liberalization of sugar imports, which was seen to “kill the sugar industry”.

“That is what we are appealing to the government, to the Executive, to (Agriculture Secretary) Manny Piñol, to our finance managers. Instead of ‘killing the farmers’, by saying we should just import, we should come up with an alternative,” Zubiri said in a media interview here.

The senator, a staunch advocate of the sugar industry, said the alternative is bridging the gap between the producer and the consumer.

He noted that in South Korea and other countries, the produce goes directly to the cooperative markets, which sell it straight to the end-users.

“Either sell it to the end-users or to sell it (supermarkets) like what Robinsons and other facilities are doing now. So that is the key,” senator said.

Zubiri noted that beverage giant Coca-Cola Philippines is “buying 100 percent cane sugar” after dropping the use of high-fructose corn syrup as sweetener.

“They are now doing measures to talk to all sugar federations to buy directly from them. That’s a good sign and that’s what we need to do,” he added.

Zubiri also said the “high price” of sugar is not the problem since the farm gate price of raw sugar is not expensive.

“We really have to figure out how to tax the middlemen,” he said.

Zubiri pointed out the national government should not make a “sweeping statement” on the sugar industry liberalization, and should help the farmers instead.

Currently, at least 80 percent of sugarcane farmers in the Philippines are agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) with an awarded land of one to two hectares each.

Zubiri said these small farmers cannot mechanize and don’t have irrigation, and now also face the threat of El Niño expected to bring extreme heat.

“It’s a difficult situation for sugar farmers. If we put importation in front and center of the program, it will kill five million people who are directly and indirectly involved in the sugar industry,” he added.

The senator also said the 28 provinces across the country, which comprise the sugar industry, include hotbeds of insurgency like Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.

“Some ARBs are former rebels. If you take away that advantage for them to survive, they will just go to the mountains, and we will have another insurgency problem,” Zubiri added.

On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, who talked to reporters in Sagay City, said that in proposing the sugar import liberalization, the country’s economic managers should weigh the economic benefits against the social cost and should consider that 80 percent of sugar farmers are ARBs.

He added that the move will not be consistent to the program of the Department of Agrarian Reform since first-time land owners, who are the ARBs, will be affected. (PNA)


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