Senate to look into planned deregulation of sugar imports

BACOLOD, Philippines – The Senate may call in economic managers to question the proposal to liberalize sugar imports, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Saturday, March 9.

"We will be fighting the proposals from the executive [branch].... If this legislation will affect the people...we will be fighting it tooth and nail. And if it is [an] administrative order, we will fight them on that and question them," Zubiri told Rappler.

"The Senate has the oversight on that also – we [can] call them through committee hearings and question them on the difficulty of implementing such moves."

Sugar industry stakeholders have been rallying against the proposal, fearing that it may hurt sugarcane farmers and increase the number of insurgents. (READ: Gov't must listen to stakeholders before deregulating sugar imports – Piñol

Economic managers had pitched to liberalize sugar imports last January after sugar prices climbed as production dropped last year. This comes after the government's move to liberalize the rice trade, through the rice tariffication law signed in February.

Also in February, 10 senators, including Zubiri, passed a resolution calling on economic managers not to pursue the proposal to deregulate sugar imports, as it would heavily affect 28 provinces that produce sugar.

Zubiri told reporters in a press conference on Saturday that he was asked by reelectionist Senator Cynthia Villar to schedule a hearing by July, after the May polls.

By then, lawmakers will be reviewing both Republic Act (RA) No. 10659 or the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (SIDA) and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) charter.

"[We will be checking the] implementation of the funding support from the government, [because] this is not automatically appropriated. It's supposed to be automatically appropriated but it's not and I don't know why," Zubiri said, referring to the SIDA.

"These are the feasible [things] we can review."

As for the SRA charter, Zubiri said they will also look into the SRA's participation in the National Biofuels Board. Under RA No. 9367 or the Biofuels Act, the SRA is mandated to ensure enough feedstock supply, as ethanol is one of the by-products in producing sugar.

Zubiri also told reporters that economic managers should focus instead on bridging sugar producers to consumers and cutting the middlemen.

"Instead of killing the farmers, they should come up with the alternative, bridging the producer [to] the consumer," he said. – Rappler.com