Greg raises alarm vs. looming crisis

By Chrysee Samillano

The Visayan Daily Star – February 7, 2017

Bacolod Rep. Greg Gasataya yesterday said the importation of high fructose corn syrup and its impending domination in industries using sugar as an essential ingredient, feels like being dragged back to the time when the Negros sugar industry was in crisis in the early 1980′s.

During a privilege speech in Congress yesterday, Gasataya recalled that, during those times, thousands of sugar workers faced hunger because of the collapse of the sugar industry. He said the United States stopped buying most of its sugar from the Philippines and sugar prices fell to its lowest.

Gasataya said that in May 1984, a boy named Joel Abong was confined in a government hospital and died two weeks later due to tuberculosis and third degree malnutrition after his picture was taken by a journalist from the San Francisco Examiner.

In simple terms, he died because he had nothing to eat, he said.

Even Freddie Aguilar was inspired to compose the song “Sagipin natin mga bata sa Negros” to show support to the condition of the children in Negros, he added.

Gasataya said that three decades later, Negros is once again confronted with the issue threatening to bring it back to a situation the people all despise.

“We take this matter very seriously as it give us horrible figures showing its (HFCS) adverse effects to the Philippine sugar industry, which is a huge industry contributing to about P87 billion to our economy annually,” he said.

Gasataya said that according to sugar planter organizations, the importation of HFCS as an artificial sweetener has caused a dramatic drop in the price from P1,800 per 50 kg bag peak in Sept. 2016 down to P1,5000 in December of the same year.

They further stated that based on the records of the Bureau of Customs, about 235,000 metric tons of HFCS equivalent to 352,000 metric tons of sugar entered the country in 2016, translating to a loss of P10.5 billion in the sugar industry, he said.

Gasataya said the entry of HFCS, which is almost 50 percent cheaper than locally produced sugar is a big problem not just to the sugar planters but more so to the sugar workers.

The Negros Island Region, the Sugarbowl of the Philippines and producer of 57 percent of the Philippines’ total domestic sugar, considers this industry as the lifeblood of its economy, he said.

Certainly, the importation of HFCS will cause a very unimaginable proportion of damage to all sugar stakeholders which includes 750,000 to 800,000 plantation workers; 15,000 sugar mill workers and about a million migrant workers or sacadas, Gasataya said.

For the businessmen, this is a loss of income and for the farmers and workers, a loss of hope, he said.

Gasataya said there are unprecedented adverse possibilities emerging from this importation. So he together with 14 other members of the House coming from sugar producing provinces, are filing a resolution calling for an inquiry in aid of legislation on the importation of HFCS.

This is their simple way of echoing the voice of the farmers and workers, the voice that screams “There should be no more Joel Abongs!”, he said.

Asked for his comment, Mayor Evelio Leonardia said “I go with all the people fighting against it (HFCS) because we are talking of the sugar industry which is our lifeblood.”

“Inspite of our graduation from a mono crop economy, still, it cannot be denied that the sugar industry is still a dominant factor. It still affects a big number of our people and directly or indirectly, it will still impact on the City of Bacolod and our economy,” he said.

Leonardia said Gasataya, not being a landowner himself, will be a good representative to deliver the message of the sugar industry. “I think he is doing it, not only for Bacolod, but for the rest of Negros Occidental and the sugar industry itself,” he said.*CGS