Negros, other solons unite against sugar import liberalization
BACOLOD CITY — Negros Island representatives, along with lawmakers from other sugar producing provinces, came together to oppose the proposal by Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno to liberalize sugar importation.
Rep. Jose Francisco Benitez of Negros Occidental’s third district led his colleagues in filing House Resolution No. 1199 on August 15, expressing strong opposition to Diokno’s recent statement that food and beverage manufacturers would be allowed to import sugar as part of the Department of Finance’s plan to increase the tax rate of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Benitez said he feared that liberalizing sugar importation without adequate support to local sugarcane farmers would weaken the domestic sugar industry.
“Sugar production this year is projected to decrease due to El Niño and our limited milling capacity. But instead of helping our sugar producers, flooding our market with imported sugar will kill our domestic sugar industry,” the lawmaker said.
“Sugar-exporting countries can sell to us their surplus sugar at prices below production cost because of massive subsidies and protectionist policies,” he added.
The Department of Finance has taxed sweetened beverages through the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law.
Data from the Bureau of Internal Revenue show that total tax revenue from sweetened beverages between 2018 and 2022 was P174.5 billion.
It said only P3.92 billion was allocated for programs for the sugar industry for 2018-2023.
This is in spite of the provision in the Sugarcane Industry Development Act that mandates annual allocation of at least P2 billion for programs to strengthen the sugar industry.
“Instead of assuring us of ploughing back revenues from tax on sweetened beverages to strengthen the sugar industry, Secretary Diokno is offering liberalization of sugar importation,” Benitez said.
“He seems to be supporting liberalization to sweeten the deal with food and beverage manufacturers and counteract additional costs from higher taxes. But what about our sugarcane farmers? What is our deal with them?” he asked.
“The proposal to increase the tax rate of sugar-sweetened beverages and cushion the additional cost by allowing food and beverage manufacturers to directly import sugar may purport to provide a solution but will harm the poor, and sugarcane farmers and farmworkers.”
Aside from Benitez, authors of the resolution were Representatives Joseph Stephen S. Paduano (Abang Lingkod Partylist), Greg G. Gasataya (Bacolod City), Gerardo P. Valmayor Jr. (Negros Occidental, 1st District), Alfredo D. Marañon III (Negros Occidental, 2nd District), Juliet Marie de Leon Ferrer (Negros Occidental, 4th District), Emilio Bernardino L. Yulo (Negros Occidental, 5th District), Mercedes K. Alvarez (Negros Occidental, 6th District), Michael B. Gorriceta (Iloilo, 2nd District), Jocelyn Sy Limkaichong (Negros Oriental, 1st District) and Manuel T. Sagarbarria (Negros Oriental, 2nd District).