Labor groups in Negros Occidental issued a manifesto expressing their strong opposition to government’s planned importation of 450,000 MT of refined sugar at a press conference in Bacolod City on Friday, January 27.
The labor leaders and advocates, who represent the majority of labor organizations in Negros, said they are opposing the importation to safeguard the welfare of farmers, and farm and mill workers in the sugar industry.
Copies of their manifesto will be sent to the Office of the President, Department of Agriculture, Sugar Regulatory Administration and sugar planters’ groups, Wennie Sancho, convenor of the Save the Sugar Industry Movement, said.
“Grave and irreparable injury will result from the implementation of 450,000 MT sugar imports. The gravity of the possible injury cannot be underestimated as the sugar industry directly and indirectly impacts the lives of around three million Filipinos,” the manifesto said.
It will condemn to economic bankruptcy the sugar industry’s 80,000 planters and the employment and livelihood loss of its 700,000 agricultural workers, 26,000 mill workers and some 3 million downstream dependents, it added.
“This is contrary to the administrations avowal to having a heart that bleeds for the poor. This measure is not a poverty reduction measure. It is poverty multiplier,” the manifesto said.
The farm workers in the industry are the lowest paid. They are suffering from starvation wages because most sugar producing provinces are monoculture economies and have very narrow employment opportunities, it added.
“With the importation of the 450,000 MT of refined sugar and the full liberalization of the industry, sugar farm workers will have their ‘tiempos muertos (dead season)’ not only for three months, but for a lifetime,” the manifesto said.
Lifting the quantitative restrictions has created fear of a possible glut or oversupply of low priced sugar in the market, especially when supply exceeds the demand, it said.
It will be the sugar cartels, unscrupulous sugar traders, syndicates, hoarders and profiteers who will take advantage of sugar importation, the manifesto said.
Most of the small farmers in the industry are agrarian reform beneficiaries who have soldiered on planting sugar without government support, Sancho said.
“Thrusting them to slug it out with imported sugar in the domestic market without protection under a regime of sugar import liberalization will only add cruelty to government neglect”, he said.
Sancho said a Negros-based sugar producers federation had opposed what they called the ill-timed planned importation last year for being detrimental to the sugar industry and even sought a temporary restraining order.
However, the same sugar producers’ group manifested on January 19 that they are backing the government’s plan to import 450,000 MT of sugar this year, Sancho lamented.
“They are now singing a different tune…we cannot understand why they reneged from their previous position,” he added.
Sancho said while they recognize the need for imports and a sugar buffer stock, they should know the actual and projected production and consumption figures for this crop year.
“Sugar imports should be calibrated in volume and timed to arrive after the close of the milling so that it does not depress milling prices that would be grossly disadvantageous to the sugarcane farmers. The Department of Agriculture needs to consult with planters and millers before proceeding with imports. We are still in the peak of harvest and milling activities and there is abundant local stock at this point. The Department of Agriculture should determine if there is a real shortage,” he said.
Sancho said among the labor groups supporting their opposition to the importation of 450,000 metric tons of sugar are the General Alliance of Workers Association, National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines, Philippine Agriculture, Commercial and Industrial Workers Union, Congress of Independent Organizations, Democratic Alliance of Labor Organizations, Alliance of Labor Associations for Reform, United Sugar Farmers Organization, and the Commercial and Agro Industrial Labor Organization.*