2nd court issues order to stop sugar importation
BACOLOD CITY, Negro Occidental, Philippines — Another regional trial court (RTC) in Negros Occidental, this time in Himamaylan City, has issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Duterte administration’s move to allow the importation of 200,000 metric tons of sugar.
Executive Judge Walter Zorilla of RTC Branch 55 extended on Feb. 17 his earlier 72-hour TRO to 20 days to prevent irreparable damage to sugar farmers who asked the court for a more permanent injunction.
Zorilla ordered the extension of three days after Executive Judge Reginald Fuentebella of RTC Branch 73 in Sagay City also issued a 20-day restraining order on Feb. 14.
Both courts ordered the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), represented by Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, not to implement Sugar Order No. 3 that allowed the importation of the 200,000 metric tons of sugar.
Imports during harvest
Both courts said they granted the TROs upon the separate pleas of two groups opposed to the importations even at the height of the harvest and milling season.
Enrique Tayo, president of the Negros Occidental Federation of Farmers Associations, was the petitioner in the Himamaylan court.
The Asosacion de Agricultores de La Carlota y Pontevedra Inc. and the La Carlota Mill District Multi-Purpose Cooperative, represented by David Alba, acted as interveners.
Stable sugar supply
In Sagay, the petitioner was the Rural Sugar Planters Association Inc., represented by its president Joseph Edgar Sarrosa.
Sarrosa, also a director of the United Sugar Producers Federation (Unifed), said Sugar Order No. 3, that was supposed to be implemented in March, would bring “grave injustice, untold irreparable injury, loses and damages to the sugar industry that has been devastated by Typhoon “Odette” on Dec. 16.
“There is no basis for Sugar Order No. 3 since Serafica himself has stated that there is no reason for prices to increase since supply is stable despite the effects of [the typhoon],” Sarrosa said.
He said even just news of the approved sugar importation drove down mill gate sugar prices by as much as P250 per 50-kilogram bag to the detriment of farmers already reeling from high fertilizer and fuel prices.
“More than 90 percent of the sugar farmers are agrarian reform beneficiaries. Gone are the days of the hacenderos (wealthy plantation owners),” he said.
Manuel Lamata, president of Unifed, said in a statement that sugar farmers were already in an agricultural crisis.
“What is happening in the sugar industry now falls on the shoulders of Serafica. I appeal once more to President Duterte to fire him as he has no decency to resign despite everything,” Lamata said.
Serafica, when asked for his reaction, said he was advised by counsel not to make any official statement, but did say that the “SRA is complying with its mandate under existing laws … toward addressing the needs of the sugarcane industry.”
But Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri on Feb. 14 asked the Senate in a resolution to investigate Serafica’s order as well as other food importations approved by Agriculture Secretary William Dar.
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