FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 25, 2015
Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA media officer – 09166114181
Sugar workers expressed support for House Resolution No. 2413 (HR 2413) directing the House Committee on Agriculture and Food to conduct an inquiry on rampant sugar smuggling, filed yesterday by Representative Neri J. Colmenares of Bayan Muna Partylist amid the ‘Sugargate’ scandal at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) involving Presidential Kabarilan Virginia Torres.
“We back Rep. Colmenares’s initiative to investigate sugar smuggling, long considered by industry stakeholders and even ordinary sugar workers as a serious matter that government should immediately address,” said John Milton Lozande, Acting Chairperson of the national agriworkers federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).
Lozande is also the secretary-general of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), UMA’s local affiliate in Negros Island, where more than half of the country’s total sugar output is produced.
Colmenares’s house resolution noted that the reported series of smuggling happened and swelled into an alarming level in such a short period of time, amounting to an estimated total of Php 140 million during the second quarter of 2015, not including “what may have passed through BOC monitoring, as admitted by BOC Commissioner Alberto Lina.”
UMA observed that sugar smuggling became even more pronounced despite purported “tighter government policy” through the implementation of the recently-enacted Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) of 2015.
“Even before President Aquino signed the SIDA last April, UMA had already forewarned concerned Congress and Senate committees that come 2015 sugar smuggling in the country would have certainly gotten out of hand. We have long expressed this point in several of our position papers precisely criticizing the rationale behind the sugar bills which eventually became the SIDA,” said Lozande.
In these papers, UMA decried government’s flawed framework in “protecting the sugar industry” and its complete lack of will to challenge the very evil that has made the current crisis imminent – liberalization in agriculture.
UMA stated that “only through the repudiation of unequal neoliberal trade and economic treaties such as the GATT-WTO and the Asean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), and the implementation of genuine land reform can the crisis in the sugar industry and in the whole sector of agriculture can decisively be resolved.”
UMA also blasted certain government agencies for corruption in handling sugar funds.
“If (government) cannot as of yet be relied upon to pursue the aforementioned solutions, it should at least try to look into the alleged cases of corruption (in) irregularly hefty bonuses of executives in the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), or into the reported anomalies in the implementation of the SAP (Social Amelioration Program for sugar workers)”
“It is very timely as well for the Senate to probe the extent of sugar smuggling in the country and set up ways to preempt its escalation especially come 2015 when sugar tariffs for imported sugar, as dictated by rapacious global neoliberal policies, finally becomes zero rated,” reads a position paper submitted January last year during a Senate hearing on the sugar industry, where UMA also led a picket-protest with sugar workers under its affiliate KAISAHAN; along with a local alliance of small sugar planters from Batangas.
Colmenares’s HR 2413 also noted that “the sale of illegally imported sugar shall only be possible if the SRA approves for the auction of the confiscated shipments of sugar.” UMA pointed out that with reported corruption at the SRA, the public must also be made aware of how government utilizes proceeds from smuggled sugar.
“If these shipments are not returned to Thailand, burned, destroyed or thrown out to sea, then sugar workers would not want to hear that funds culled from these illegal shipments have disappeared in thin air – only to bankroll Roxas and the Liberal Party’s bid for six more tortuous years along Daang Matuwid,” said Lozande.
UMA also agrees with Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap, who said that “Torres will not be brave enough to pull this daring stunt (at the BOC) without any connection in high level government offices.”
“We cannot discount the fact that some unscrupulous officials running in next year’s elections are ordering Torres to collect campaign funds from sugar smuggling,” said Hicap.