By Ellson Quismorio
The liberalization of the sugar industry will lead to the mass displacement of farm workers and worsen the state of hunger in the country, Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Ariel “Ka Ayik” Casilao warned on Monday.
Casilao, a member of the militant Makabayan bloc, was reacting to a Department of Budget and Management (DBM) policy to liberalize or allow the entry of imported sugar in the Philippines. He vowed to file a House resolution to oppose this.
“The neoliberal proposal to tear down regulatory measures on imported sugar will only lead to [sending] small farmers and farm workers to hunger and misery worse than ‘tiempo muerto,'” the lawmaker said in a statement.
Tiempo Muerto, which usually lasts August to September, is the “dead season” or the period wherein sugar farm workers have no source of livelihood.
Casilao said local sugar farm workers are protesting the all-out liberalization of the sugar industry since the entry of the imported sugar will hurt domestic sugar cane production, which was valued at P43 billion in 2018.
He said 75 percent of the country’s total sugar farms are just two hectares large on average and are cultivated by more than 63,000 farmers. More than half of the small farmers are located in the Visayas.
The DBM justified its liberalization move by citing the low supply and high prices of sugar. The government allowed the importation of 200,000 metric tons of sugar last year.
Casilao says it’s clear that the government is adopting a framework for the sugar industry that is not sincerely for national development or the democratic consideration of stakeholders.
Republic Act (RA) 10659 or the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA), which introduced sugar-block farming and the Sugar Industry Roadmap, basically failed to spot the fundamental concerns in the sugar industry. According to him, these were genuine agrarian reform and the boosting of sugar farm workers’ livelihood.
“SIDA will never result to improved sugar productivity with chronic landlessness or the hacienda system,” the lawmaker reckoned.