Marcos dictatorship

Revival of Philippine Sugar Corporation triggers trauma of sugar crisis under dictatorship

Iya Gozum

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Revival of Philippine Sugar Corporation triggers trauma of sugar crisis under dictatorship
Sugar workers hark back to the sugar monopoly that hurt farmers’ livelihood and caused the Negros famine

MANILA, Philippines – The recent talks of the revival of the Philippine Sugar Corporation (PhilSuCor) has resurfaced trauma of the sugar crisis during Marcos dictatorship era, sugar workers said on Friday, May 19.

“Nakaka-trigger talaga ng trauma naming sugar workers itong pag-ungkat ng anak ng diktador sa bangkay ng PhilSuCor,” said John Milton Lozande, chairperson of National Federation of Sugar Workers. (The resurrection of PhilSuCor triggers the trauma of sugar workers.)

Recently, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in a meeting with stakeholders that he wants to revive PhilSuCor to help boost the country’s sugar production. Sugar workers though were not represented in that Wednesday meeting in the Palace.

When created by the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos back in 1983, PhilSuCor was tasked to provide financing “in the acquisition, rehabilitation and/or expansion of sugar mills, refineries, and other related facilities used in the manufacture, packing, storage, distribution, and shipment of sugar and its by-products and derivatives.”

Despite the political will to revive the corporation – and the support Marcos is getting from stakeholders – PhilSuCor’s image is already marred by its history.

Created during the twilight of the dictatorship, PhilSuCor stood in the shadows cast by the sugar-trading monopoly that manipulated prices, encumbered small farmers, and set off the Negros famine in the 1980s.

The land-grabbing and the scourge of hunger during those years are still fresh in the memory of sugar workers, said Lozande.

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Ariel Casilao, acting chairperson of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, warned, “Magiging Benedic2.0 ito, panibagong kroniyismo sa panibagong Marcos.” (This revival will result to Benedic2.0 – a new crony system under a new Marcos president.)

‘Benedic2.0’ is a play on the name of Marcos close associate Roberto Benedicto, dubbed ‘Sugar King’ in the heydays of the sugar monopoly. Benedicto headed the National Sugar Trading Corporation and the Philippine Sugar Commission in the 1970s. According to a Washington Post report in 1986, cronies were able to divert around $1 billion from sugar sales.

Marcos in the ‘right direction’

Some stakeholders, however, find the revival a harbinger of good things to come for the industry.

In an ANC interview on Friday, May 19, United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines President Manuel Lamata lauded Marcos move to revive the corporation, calling it a step in the ‘right direction.’

“It has worked in the past,” Lamata maintained. “It has helped a lot of people, a lot of farmers, a lot of sugar millers [wherein] they could attain loans and credit from that corporation.”

It was actually lamentable that a working corporation like PhilSuCor had to be closed down because of politicking, said Lamata.

“It was closed down through political reasons. That’s how I saw it.” Lamata, however, did not specify what these reasons are.

In 2018, former president Rodrigo Duterte ordered the abolition of PhilSuCor. The administration then said that the corporation’s mandate was redundant of that of the Sugar Regulatory Administration’s (SRA).

The sugar industry is now reeling from a crisis and alleged cartels. Since last year, the SRA has seen executives step down in light of the sugar import mess. Marcos, serving concurrently as agriculture chief, has been approving importations of sugar to address the country’s demand and to lower prices. –

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.