By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos
MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Wednesday assured the sugar industry’s stakeholders of putting a premium on local production amid scheduled plans to import 150,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar.
At a consultative meeting in Malacañan with local farmers, planters, millers, and traders, Marcos mentioned his administration’s several initiatives to boost the industry and make it internationally competitive.
But in the meantime, he added, there was still a need for the country to import sugar to augment the supply and stabilize the price.
“Unfortunately, magi-import pa rin tayo (we still have to import) up to 150,000 metric tons. But kung maganda ang production natin, baka hindi kailangan lahat yun (But if we have a good local production, we might not need to import all of those [150 MTof sugar]),” Marcos said.
“In the end, we will continue to favor [the stakeholders] in terms of buying local production over importation. So, ‘yun ang talagang kailangan (So, that’s what we really need),” he added.
On Monday, Marcos approved the additional importation of up to 150,000 MT of sugar.
During the consultative meeting, Marcos took note of the stakeholders’ concerns and suggestions, including the identification of sugar lands to increase acreage and local production.
He said there was also a proposal to revive the Philippine Sugar Corporation (PhilSuCor), a government-owned and -controlled corporation assisting the sugarcane industry.
In 2018, PhilSuCor was abolished over the supposed overlapping functions with the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).
“One of the suggestions that came up during the meeting was to revitalize PhilSuCor. It provides financing for farmers, especially for cooperatives and farmers’ associations, ‘yung mga tinatawag na (those that are called) block…kaya’t bubuhayin natin, at babaguhin natin (We will revive this and we will make some changes),” he said.
“Let’s see what changes need to be done so we could adjust to our current situation and continue their work in providing assistance to our farmer groups,” he added.
Also at the meeting, SRA acting administrator Pablo Luis Azcona presented the benefits of moving the milling and harvesting to September as this would lead to lesser milling of young canes, better sugar recovery, longer milling period, higher production volume, better factory preparation, and fair opportunity to both the millers and farmers.
Marcos vowed to “balance” the situation, as his administration intends to boost the country’s sugar production.
“‘Yun ang kailangan, ‘yung balanse diyan. Kailangan naman kumpleto ang ating suplay ng asukal ngunit dapat naman lahat ng production galing sa Pilipinas, iyan ang unang binibili (We need to balance it. We need to have sufficient supply of sugar and ensure that we will first procure those that are being produced in the Philippines). So, that’s what we agreed upon,” he said.
Hinigaran town, Negros Occidental Mayor Jose Nadie Arceo, one of the stakeholders who attended the meeting, thanked Marcos for the opportunity to hear the sentiments of the beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and for being the “first” president to listen to them.
“Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to convey the real problems of the CARP beneficiaries to the President. Previous presidents didn’t give me this opportunity, only this one,” Arceo said.
Arceo ensured that small farmers would be given the necessary assistance, considering that around 85 to 90 percent of the sugar industry is composed of small farmers.
Those who attended the meeting with Marcos were representatives from the small sugar farmers and block farmers, beneficiaries from the indigenous people (IP), United Sugar Producers Federation (UNIFED), Luzon Federation of Sugar Producers, Inc. (LUZONFED), Kabankalan-Ilog Planters Association (KABILOG PA), millers and domestic traders.
Key sugar industry stakeholders who attended the meeting included Arceo and Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental Mayor Benjie Miranda.
Other attendees were Manuel Lamata from UNIFED; Cornelio Toreja of LUZONFED; Petie Sumagaysay of KABILOG PA; Lance Gokongwei of Universal Robina Corp.; and Gareth McGeown, representing the domestic traders of Coca-cola.
Cabinet secretaries present during the meeting were Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile Sr., Special Assistant to the President Secretary Antonio Ernesto Lagdameo Jr., and Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil.
Also present were Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban and Presidential Management Staff Senior Undersecretary Elaine Masukat. (PNA)