Thousands of Negrenses are staging a protest in front of the Coca Cola plant in Barangay Mansilingan, Bacolod City, this morning and marching to the Bacolod public plaza in the afternoon to denounce the firm’s importation of sugar in the guise of premixes, and to kick off a boycott of its products.
The protests spearheaded by Sugar Watch, composed mainly of labor groups and agrarian reform beneficiaries, will be joined by the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations, National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines, and other independent sugar groups.
Sugar Watch leaders yesterday met with Sugar Regulatory Administration chief Ma. Regina Bautista-Martin to ask her to convey their demands to Coca Cola.
They want Coca Cola to buy local sugar to ensure the survival of the Philippine sugar industry and to pay a 38 percent tariff on the sugar it imported in the guise of premixes, Sugar Watch convenor Hernane Braza said.
They also want Coca Cola to stop using high fructose corn syrup in its products, he said, which they see as damaging to the health.
Martin said she will forward their concerns to Coca Cola.
The SRA chief said she will remain neutral on today’s protests and on the call of Sugar Watch to boycott Coca Cola as a government regulator, and will try to facilitate a solution to the problem as soon as possible for the good of the industry.
She confirmed that Coca Cola has imported 400,000 bags of premixes equivalent to about 20 metric tons that SRA laboratory tests have found to contain 99.5 percent sugar.
Martin has declared all 400,000 bags as C or reserve sugar while the Bureau of Customs is conducting hearings on whether the premixes should be considered sugar and slapped with a 38 percent tariff.
“We are contesting Coke’s claim that what they brought in are premixes that can enter the country at zero tariff,” she said.
Martin said she expects Customs to come up with a decision soon.
Martin confirmed that if the Coke premixes are subjected to the 38 percent tariff, it would amount to about P1.7 billion.
The SRA chief also said that other industrial users brought in 64,000 metric tons high fructose corn syrup instead of premixes.
Braza said Sugar Watch asked Martin if sugar workers could get a share of the 38 percent tariff paid to government, and Martin said she would have to convey the matter to those who have authority over that.
Sugar Watch also asked Martin if they could have a labor representative on the Sugar Board, Braza said.
Braza said they expect a crowd of about 3,000 to 5,000 at their protests against Coca Cola today.
Meanwhile, Martin said the Philippines and Thailand have a sugar bumper crop this year.
The initial projection was for the Philippines to produce 1.87 million metric tons of sugar this crop year but it has reached 2.3 million with a few mills still operating until July, she said.
Thailand that produced 6.7 million metric tons of sugar last year now has 9.5 million tons, she said.
Martin said that, to defuse the domestic supply, she has issued two orders to hasten shipments to fill the country’s share of the US sugar quota and for sale of domestic sugar in the world market.
Australia, that suffered from floods, has had less sugar production, and Brazil has not had enough supply to export to Asia, she said.
SRA’s role is to monitor the movement of sugar and to open new doors and opportunities for it sale so they are looking at the markets in China, Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia, she said.
Meanwhile, while SRA has no the authority to stop the importation of sugar, it will ensure that a 38 percent tariff is paid and that it is declared as C or reserve if there is an abundance of local supply, she said.
SRA will also act against the entry of imported of sugar in the guise of premixes at zero tariff, she said.
Seized smuggled sugar have also been classified as D to be auctioned for sale to the world market, she said.
“We are also studying the classification of such sugar for auction for ethanol production if there are takers,” she said.
She said industrial users resorted to bringing in more premixes and high fructose corn syrup when domestic refined sugar reached a high of almost P3,000 per Lkg this crop year.
Millgate prices of sugar are currently at about P1,420 per Lkg, she said.
Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. yesterday said that, while he sympathizes with those calling for a boycott of Coca Cola products, he believes “It will not work.”
He said they should instead watch out for the entry of smuggled sugar and for technical smuggling of the commodity.
Sugar Watch convernors said they will cause a drop in consumption of Coca Cola products by 50 percent in Negros Occidental and will bring their protests nationwide if the firm does not heed their demands.
Cat Avelino, Coca Cola Corporate Communications director, when reached by the DAILY STAR for their side, said they had no comment as of this time.
The firm has maintained that it has been operating in compliance with the law.*CPG