Senator Cynthia Villar yesterday said the Senate aims to pass a consolidated bill that will generate an annual fund to strengthen the competitiveness and boost diversification efforts of the country’s sugarcane industry, to ensure its survival beyond 2015.
She said they will try hard to pass a law that will make government fund measures to enable the sugar industry to be competitive when the tariff on imported sugar entering the country drops to a nominal 5 percent by 2015.
“We are here to assess the real situation of the sugarcane industry and to find means to maintain its profitability," Villar said.
Villar presided over a public hearing of the Senate committees on Agriculture and Food, and Government Corporations and Public Enterprises, which she chairs, together with the Committee on Ways and Means, at the Sugar Regulatory Administration Social Hall in Bacolod City, and attended by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and industry stakeholders yesterday morning.
The stakeholders included millers, planters, workers and agrarian reform beneficiaries, who gave their inputs on the sugar bills.
Also present were Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr., Bacolod Rep. Evelio Leonardia and Mayor Monico Puentevella, who thanked Villar and Alcala for their concern for the sugar industry, and for holding a Senate hearing in Bacolod City.
The public hearing was conducted to tackle bills filed by senators Villar, Francis Escudero, Nancy Binay, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Joseph Victor Ejercito on the sugar industry. Hopefully, they can be consolidated by the end of 2013, Villar said.
The common objective of the proposed measures is to boost the country's sugarcane industry, through the creation of a Sugarcane Industry Development Fund, and to transfer to the Sugar Regulatory Board the power to nominate all members of the Philippine Sugar Corp. Board, she said.
The fund is expected to be sourced from 15 percent of the value-added tax imposed on the sugar industry, which is estimated to generate about P300 million annually, she said.
SRA Administrator Maria Regina Martin suggested that the final version of the bill tasks concerned government agencies to support the sugar industry, provide development funds for the improvement of farms and mills, line budget funds for farm-to-mill roads and irrigation systems, provide incentive for block farms, mandate the establishment of sugarcane eco-zones, and provide a framework for development of other sugarcane-based products.
Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, said the bills should address the need for irrigation, farm-to-market roads, cheaper fertilizer and mill diversification.
Rafael Coscolluela, president of the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations, said the sugar industry has been running on its own steam – it pays the cost of the operation of SRA, its own research and development, anti-smuggling operations, and socio economic programs with no help from the national government.
The Thai government, on the other hand, provides its sugarcane industry with tax funds to enhance its competitiveness, he added.
In the Philippines, we see a government trying to extract more from an already beleaguered sugar industry, he said, citing the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s move to tax raw sugar.
Coscolluela said they are willing to sit down with the technical working group of the Senate in crafting the bill to aid the sugarcane industry.
Manuel Lamata, president of the United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines, thanked Villar and Alcala for coming to Bacolod for a public hearing, and for listening to the problems of the industry.
Villar vowed to legislate appropriate applicable policy and support programs for the sugar industry, which plays a critical role in the country’s growth, noting that it is a more than P70 billion-industry.
Citing statistics from the SRA, Villar said a total of 422,500 hectares of the country's land are planted to sugar with 62,000 sugar farmers.
SRA records also indicate that the livelihood of 62,000 sugar farmers and the 600,000 workers of the Philippine sugar industry would be threatened with the entry of imported sugar, she said.
FIGHT VS. VAT
Meanwhile, Villar urged the sugar industry to remain united in the fight against the BIR imposition of VAT on raw sugar.
Sugar groups have filed a case against the BIR before the Cadiz Regional Trial Court, which has issued a preliminary injunction to prevent the imposition of VAT on raw sugar, pending the hearing of the case.
Lamata said a hearing will be held today and they hope to get a permanent injunction on the imposition of VAT by the BIR on raw sugar.*CPG