22 solons warn DOF plan to lift import restrictions to kill PH sugar industry
BACOLOD CITY—At least 22 lawmakers objected to a proposal by the Department of Finance (DOF) to lift restrictions on importation of sugar.
Led by Negros Occidental Rep. Francisco Benitez, the congressmen filed House Resolution No. 412 on Wednesday, Oct. 2, warning that allowing imported sugar into the country would kill the domestic sugar industry.
The resolution said it sought to safeguard the welfare of sugar farmers and workers in 28 provinces.
The DOF, in a bulletin last Sept. 27, said import restrictions, which limit importation volumes, had raised sugar prices, penalized consumers and stunted the growth of food and beverage industry.
The congressmen, however, said lifting import restrictions would hurt 84,000 sugar farmers and 720,000 industry workers.
The Philippine sugar industry, worth P120 billion a year, pays P4.5 billion in value added tax, P37 billion in excise and P6.9 billion in corporate and real estate tax, said Benitez.
“Negros, in particular, is reeling from the pains of the industry struggling to modernize,” he said.
“The economic viability of small sugar farms, cultivated by beneficiaries of agrarian reform, remain tenuous because of the insufficiency and inefficiency of government support,” he said.
“Programs designed to help the industry diversify and modernize are underfunded, and 93 percent of agrarian reform beneficiaries wait for the promised support,” he added.
Benitez, vice chair of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, said the congressmen behind the resolution would demand a House investigation that would identify bottlenecks in programs designed to help sugar farmers.
At least 90 percent of the farmers are agrarian reform beneficiaries.
Deputy House Minority Leader Stephen Paduano echoed Benitez, saying the sugar industry is getting barely any support from the government.
Paduano said this was shown by the declining allocation for implementation of the Sugar Industry Development Act, which got P565 million in 2019 and would get only P500 million in 2020.
The DOF proposal to lift import restrictions, Paduano said, “adds insult to injury.”
He said unbridled importation would further stunt the growth of small farms and worsen a brewing peasant unrest in parts of Negros.
“Have we not learned from the negative impact of liberalization on local rice farmers?” he said. “We cannot and will not allow more suffering, this time of our sugar farmers,” he added.
The resolution said it was wrong to compare local with world market prices because sugar exporters, like Thailand and India, dump their products which they can afford to do because of massive subsidies that their farmers are getting.
Filipino farmers, the resolution said, could not afford to sell their sugar at lower costs./TSB
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