A group of sugar workers expressed opposition to an additional importation of 300,000 tons of refined sugar supposedly to combat inflation as well as the import of molasses being proposed by bioethanol companies.
The National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) said that recently, bioethanol producers under the Center for Alcohol Research and Development have requested the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to import more molasses as feedstock to meet the annual demand of 500 million liters of bioethanol as the country can only supply 60 percent of the product.
Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, however, reveal that the country has increased its importation of molasses from 198,000 tons in 2015 to 484,000 tons in 2016.
Such importations, according to NFSW secretary-general John Milton Lozande, would further reduce the already slave-like wages of the 780,000 sugar workers or even lose their jobs.
“As this would lower the prices of local sugar and molasses and to cut costs, sugar planters would simply lower the wages of their workers or retrench them. Sugarcane both produces sugar and molasses,” he said.
“At present, sugar workers in Negros who number 335,000 only earn an average monthly income of P1,500 to P2,000 per month, which translates to just P30 to P67 per day. As such, it is a common occurrence that sugarcane worker families are forced to work together in many ‘haciendas’ making a family unit as the basic work force in many sugarcane plantations,” Lozande added.
On the other hand, sugar workers in Cagayan Valley, where, sugar and molasses are also produced, earn only an average of P170 a day. There is also a tiempo muerto or dead season from June to September, when there is hardly any work for sugarcane workers, the group noted.
“The already miserable lot of the sugarcane workers under the oppressive hacienda system is further aggravated by the implementation of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN law in January which resulted in unending price hikes of basic commodities used daily by ordinary people, including sugar workers,” Lozande said.
“At the same time, small sugar planters owning up to 10 hectares of land each would also be affected by the importation of the said sugar products, as this would lower the price of the crop they are producing. They number more than 70,000 and comprise more than 79 percent of the total number of sugar planters,” he added.
Only big landlords, millers, bioethanol manufacturers and traders who are advocating for the importation of sugar and molasses would benefit from this scheme, according to the NFSW.
The SRA had earlier approved the importation of 200,000 tons of sugar for Coca-Cola and confectionery exporters. Importations would thus grow to 500,000 tons.
The NFSW is demanding the government to stop the importation of sugar and molasses to the country.
“It should divert sugar for export to the local market, and put sugar and basic agricultural products like rice under price control,” the group said.
There is also a need to increase the daily wage of sugar workers to P750 a day as well as scrap the TRAIN law, Lozande added.
Philippines to import 150,000 MT of sugar.
Amid the opposition, the SRA has released the guidelines for the 150,000 MT to be sourced outside the country, thereby giving a go-signal to the private sector to proceed with the importation.
In its latest sugar order, SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica said any eligible importer can only bring in from 2,500 MT to 15,000 MT of raw or refined sugar.
The volume has been allocated on a first-come, first-served basis to be allotted to end-users of sugar or sugar-using industries provided they are SRA-registered international sugar traders.
“President Duterte has directed SRA and the (Department of Agriculture) to initiate import measures to immediately bring down prices particularly of food products including sugar,” Serafica said.
Raw sugar prices are continuously increasing, averaging around P1,980 per 50-kilogram bag and P55 per kilo at the retail level.
Refined sugar is also at a high of P2,550 per 50-kilo bag and P64 per kilo at retail.
“The SRA aims to stabilize prices at a level reasonably profitable to the producers and fair to consumers,” Serafica said.
Meanwhile, the SRA Board will issue clearance for release to eligible sugar traders upon completion of reclassification certificates, application letter, bill of lading, commercial invoice, packing list, certificate of analysis from the country of origin, and proof of payment of bond and SRA fees.
The sugar to be imported will be classified as “C” or reserved sugar so that it can be released from the Bureau of Customs, and will then be converted to “B” or domestic market sugar.
Traders can start applying for their import allocations starting Oct. 8.
Imported sugar should arrive in the country not later than Dec. 31.
The SRA warned that an eligible importer who fails to bring in his allocated volume shall have its registration revoked or suspended.