BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN
Stakeholders of the sugar industry strongly debunked claims of Sugar Regulatory Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica that the issue on sugar importation has become ‘very political’ after his draft proposal Sugar Order Number 4 was leaked to the public.
There is no politics involved in our opposition to SO 4, but the survival of the sugar industry, stressed former SRA board member Dino Yulo, adding that Serafica was “clearly missing the point.”
Amidst the prevailing circumstances wherein fertilizers and fuel costs are soaring, Serafica should not expect planters to take these sitting down especially when it is very clear that the new sugar order will benefit a particular sector, in this case, the industrial users and the bottlers’ group, Yulo said.
The SO 4 draft signed by Serafica seeks to import 350,000 metric tons of sugar, of which 250,000 metric tons will be refined sugar, 150,000 metric tons will be premium grade or bottlers’ grade refined sugar and the remaining 100,000 metric tons will be raw sugar.
“Any hint of sugar importation rumor, especially in such quantity and allocation, is prone to a price drop as evidenced in the previous release of Sugar Order No. 3 which fortunately was halted by the courts,” Yulo said.
In a statement, Serafica said that detractors have not put into careful consideration two relevant matters on the issue, which are the availability and affordability of sugar.
A week before SO 3 was issued, Yulo said he noted an immediate price drop of P30-40 per bag of sugar. When it was published, “the drop in sugar prices ranged between P150-200 per 50-kilo bag.”
Incumbent SRA Board Member Rolly Beltran, who has not signed the draft proposal, also questioned why the importation program is being limited to a particular class of importers.
“Why not make the importation program all inclusive? Why not allow the major stakeholders to participate in the importation program rather than to a select few, favoring a particular class of importers to the prejudice of the sugar industry as well as the economy in general,” Beltran asked.
“It is my position that the sugar importation program should be made available equitably to major stakeholders and to benefit the sari-sari stores, wet markets, groceries, supermarkets, and the like. These are the vulnerable sectors of our society that are principally affected by the rising prices of sugar,” Beltran added.
Enrique Tayo of the Negros Occidental Federation of Farmers Association, which was the other group that filed a case against the previous sugar order said “there is nothing political in our move to question the draft SO 4 because our claims are factual and have legal basis, and no such political considerations.”
Yulo on the other hand clarified that planters have no qualms about importation. “But it should not be exclusive to industrial users and must be justifiable to dispel doubts.”
He added that Serafica should not use prevailing prices affecting domestic consumers as a smokescreen when they are clearly not going to directly benefit from this new sugar order.
“Serafica should make the importation all-inclusive and allow stakeholders to participate in the importation program rather than making it exclusive to a particular sector to the prejudice of the majority of stakeholders,” Yulo further said.*