Sugar smuggling, importation, and use of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) by beverage companies to the detriment of sugar industry, were brought yesterday to the attention of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol by various stakeholders of the sugar industry.
Hinigaran Mayor Jose Nadie Arceo, who is also a sugar farmer, said yesterday that they are now losing with only P1,300 per 50-kilo bag of sugar, citing the high cost of labor, smuggling, and preference of beverage companies to use HFCS rather than locally-produced sugar.
The importation of molasses, lack of farm equipment to be availed of by small sugar farmers were also raised during the sugar industry stakeholders' forum at the Sugar Regulatory Administration training center in Bacolod City.
Piñol yesterday asked leaders of the sugar industry to submit a position paper, in connection with their request, for President Rodrigo Duterte to intervene in the problem of sugar smuggling.
He said that smuggling is not only confined to sugar, but also other agricultural commodities.
Piñol said he will also take it up with Bureau of Customs commissioner Isidro Lapeña. At the same time, he reiterated that Special Order Number 3, which regulates the importation and use of HFCS, remains in effect.
Teodolfo Infante presented his research study on how to extract high fructose sugarcane syrup (HFSS) from sugarcane.
Piñol said he will look into it, have it reviewed, if it is viable, and said that P300 million from the Sugarcane Industry Development Act has been allocated for the research program.
“We are also looking for ways on how to recover the P1 billion taken by the Department of Budget and Management from the SIDA,” he added.
As stipulated under SIDA, P2 billion has been allocated for the sugar industry.
To help the sugar farmers, Piñol said he will also establish three prototypes of solar-powered irrigation systems in Negros Occidental, with each system capable of irrigating 50 hectares of land.
Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. and Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson also joined the forum.
Meanwhile, i t's all well that ends well between leaders of the sugar industry and Piñol.
Piñol yesterday said he considered the burning of his effigy at the height of the HFCS issue in Negros, a “thing of the past”.
Things like this happened in public service, Piñol said during the forum. “I don't want to look back. I want to move forward.”
Piñol earlier called sugar planters “spoiled brats” after his effigy was burned during a rally in front of a beverage firm plant, when they accused him as being anti-farmer, in relation to the HFCS issue.
He was also accused of taking sides with the multi-national companies, which he vehemently denied.
During a dialog with stakeholders of the sugar industry, Piñol, in an effort to patch up differences with those behind the burning of his effigy, said, “Let us stop being adversarial”.
“If you have a problem, call me. You can text me, or come to my office,” he said.
Being adversarial will only foment conflict. It will only create misunderstanding, he also said.
“I might commit a mistake, I might make a blunder. But let me assure you this, the blunders and mistakes I will commit will not be fueled by malevolent intentions or vested interests,” Piñol stressed.
“If I will make a mistake in the future, because I cannot claim to be perfect, rest assured that the mistake will be honest, and I am willing to correct it with the advice of the stakeholders of the industry,” he said.
The appointment of former Negros Occidental Vice-Gov. Emilio Yulo III as board member of the SRA to replace Hermenegilo Serafica was also described by some as part of the reconciliation effort.
Yulo served as spokesperson of the Sugar Alliance of the Philippines.*GPB
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