By Vanne Terrazola
Another “disaster” similar to what is happening now in the rice industry might happen should the government pursue plans to liberalize sugar importation, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri warned on Thursday.
Zubiri was asking energy officials on biofuels during a budget hearing in the Senate when he segued into proposals to deregulate sugar imports in the country amid rising prices and declining supply of domestic sugar.
The lawmaker reiterated his opposition to the plan being pushed by the Department of Finance (DOF) and other economic managers, citing the current problems faced by rice farmers following the passage of the Rice Tariffication Law, which liberalized rice importation.
“We’ve seen what happened to rice. It is a disaster,” Zubiri said at the budget deliberation.
Zubiri said he recently went to General Santos City and his home province Bukidnon where rice farmers complained about the declining price of local rice due to the surge of rice imports.
He recalled the Senate passing on second reading the resolution that will authorize government agencies to buy from local rice farmers for their rice subsidy programs.
On Wednesday, Zubiri prodded the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to come up with a “strong position” to convince the DOF to ditch the liberalization plan for sugar.
“Mr. Secretary, what is deafening is the position of the DA and the SRA on sugar import liberalization. We need a strong voice. We do not want to happen what had happened to rice,” he told DA Secretary William Dar during the deliberation of the proposed 2020 budgets of agriculture agencies.
“My worry is if we do this for sugar, OMG (oh, my God), what will just happen to the five million people [in the sugar industry],” he lamented.
Dar, in response, said he has asked the SRA to craft an action plan to accelerate the implementation of the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (SIDA), which was passed to help the local sugar farmers.
The action plan will be submitted within this week, he said.
But Zubiri was unsatisfied, saying the DA should stop the DOF.
“Dapat pagsabihan muna ang finance team natin na hindi muna tayo handa, hindi tayo handa (You should tell our finance team that we are not ready for it. We are not ready),” he said.