President Benigno Aquino III yesterday said the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Public Works and Highways plan to construct 1,000 kilometers of farm to market roads to aid the sugarcane industry in 2014.
Aquino announced this in a speech delivered for him by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala at the opening of the 60th Philippine Sugar Technologists Association annual national convention at the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City yesterday.
“We remain aware that all our efforts to maximize this industry would go to waste if we lack the infrastructure needed,” the President said.
The President also noted that sugarcane is a key component in the production of bioethanol.
Aquino said the situation in the Philippines is different now. “We are moving closer to realizing our vision of a strong and stable national agriculture,” he said.
“When in the past, public funds went to the pockets of the powerful few, today, we are seeing roads and bridges built for the benefit of our countrymen,” he added.
After the formal opening of the convention, Alcala held a private meeting with sugar industry leaders.
Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, raised the concerns of the industry on sugar smuggling, reiterating NFSP's call that Customs collectors should not only be reshuffled but those who were implicated in smuggling should be prosecuted.
“What NFSP has been calling for all along, is to prosecute and imprison all Customs personnel involved in smuggling and replace them with personnel who have good track records and proven integrity,” Rojas said.
“If they will just reshuffle the Customs collectors, it will not do any good for the sugar industry,” he added.
Alcala informed the sugar leaders that the President is planning a major revamp at the Bureau of Customs. He also pointed out that domestic sugar consumption has increased, signifying that smuggling was somehow contained and thus, more domestically-produced sugar is being absorbed in the market.
Rojas also raised the industry’s need for irrigation. Government has been providing irrigation systems but the thrust seems to be for rice farmers, he said.
Rojas pointed out that Negros has seven major rivers which can be harnessed also for the benefit of the sugar industry.
Alcala replied that he will coordinate with NIA officials and set a meeting with sugar industry leaders and the governor to identify where such projects can be constructed to maximize benefits for the industry.
He asked industry leaders to name a point man with whom DA and NIA can coordinate and who can set up a meeting with the governor.
Rojas was named the point man.
Manuel Lamata, United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines president, said they also asked Alcala to look into exempting sugar from the vitamin fortification law.
It will increase the cost of sugar to the detriment of consumers, and industrial users, who comprise about 60 percent of domestic consumption, will not buy fortified sugar because it will alter the taste of their end products, it was pointed out.
They also discussed the importation of tractors and harvesters with Alcala, Lamata said.
The DA subsidizes farm mechanization.
Rafael Coscolluela, president of the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations, added that they discussed with Alcala the need for the DA to support the anti-smuggling campaign, farm to market roads, sugar block farming, industry research and development, and removing the Value Added Tax on refined sugar exports.
Alcala was very receptive and committed to work with the Sugar Regulatory Administration and the Sugar Master Plan Foundation Inc./ Sugar Alliance of the Philippines on these concerns, Coscolluela said.
In response to Coscolluela’s request for DA assistance on the construction of more farm-to-mill roads so that the industry's transport and maintenance cost can be lessened, Alcala assured that it is a priority of his department.
Alcala asked the industry to submit a list of priorities so that it can be integrated in the DA action plan for 2014.*CPG