By Dolly Yasa
BACOLOD City – Negros island lawmakers expressed strong opposition to sugar importation liberalization because of its perceived negative impact on the domestic sugar industry.
The lawmakers’ opposition is contained in House Resolution No. 1199 filed on August 15, 2023 and released to the media on Wednesday.
The authors of the resolution are Representatives Gerardo Valmayor (Negros Occidental, 1st district), Alfredo Marañon III (Negros Occidental, 2nd district), Francisco Benitez (Negros Occidental, 3rd district), Juliet Marie Ferrer (Negros Occidental, 4th district), Emilio Bernardino Yulo (Negros Occidental, 5th district), Greg Gasataya (Bacolod City Lone district) and Stephen Paduano (Abang Lingkod partylist).
Negros Oriental Representatives Jocelyn Limkaichong (1st district) and Manuel Sagabarria (2nd district) also authored the resolution.
Joining the Negros lawmakers as author of the resolution is Iloilo 2nd district Rep. Michael Gorriceta.
The lawmakers said Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Benjamin Diokno has been quoted in recent news reports stating his support for the liberalization of the importation of sugar, particularly allowing food and beverage manufacturers to directly import sugar.
Diokno explained that liberalization of sugar importation forms part of the DOF proposal to increase the tax rate on sugar-sweetened beverages “to sweeten the deal with food beverages manufacturers that will bear the burden of higher tax.”
The lawmakers said Republic Act 10963 or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN Law imposed a tax of P6 per liter on sweetened beverages using purely caloric or non-caloric sweeteners or a combination thereof; and a tax of P12 per liter on sweetened beverages using high fructose corn syrup.
The lawmakers said TRAIN proponents agreed to plough back revenues from tax on sweetened beverages to programs aimed at increasing domestic sugar production and promoting the welfare of farmers and farmworkers.
They added that RA No. 10963 mandated that for the first five years of its effectivity, programs under RA 10659 or the Sugarcane Industry Development Act shall be among the social welfare programs that shall be funded by 30 percent of TRAIN revenues.
The lawmakers noted, however, that only P3.92 billion were allocated between 2018 to 2023 for SIDA programs even if revenues from taxes on sweetened beverages accounted for 50 percent of the P336.1 billion in total revenues from excise taxes under the TRAIN law in the same period.
“The domestic sugar industry has been starved of the much-needed government support,” the resolution added.
The Visayan lawmakers added that “instead of remedying this injustice, the DOF proposes to liberalize the importation of sugar, which will further compound the ills of the domestic sugar industry.”
“The proposal of Secretary Diokno to increase the tax rate of sugar-sweetened beverages and cushion the additional cost by allowing food and beverages manufacturers to directly import sugar may purport to provide a solution but will harm the poor and sugarcane farmers and farmworkers,” they added.
They also said that a study commissioned by the National Economic Development Authority in 2021 cautioned against sugar trade liberalization, stating that liberalization “would favor the rich more than the poor” and “will be at a clear cost to the sugar industry stakeholders.”