Concerns raised over plan to revive state sugar company

A store employee arranges packs of sugar at a supermarket in Quezon City, Oct. 16, 2022. — PHILIPPINE STAR/MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

THE MARCOS administration’s plan to revive the Philippine Sugar Corp. (PHILSUCOR) has raised concerns from stakeholders, who said this may duplicate other agencies’ existing programs for sugar farmers.

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. said the revival of PHILSUCOR, which was abolished by his predecessor in 2018, was one of the suggestions made during a meeting with industry stakeholders on Wednesday.

Former Agriculture secretary Leonardo Q. Montemayor said Mr. Marcos has not given enough reasons to justify the revival of PHILSUCOR, which was flagged by state auditors for failing to make progress on the abolition order by former president Rodrigo R. Duterte.

“What have the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK), and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) been doing all these years to modernize our sugar mills and refineries?” Mr. Montemayor said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“If they have been unable to do so, what’s the track record of PHILSUCOR that would justify its revival?”

Created under a 1983 presidential decree, the PHILSUCOR was tasked to finance the acquisition, rehabilitation and expansion of sugar mills, refineries and other facilities.

Mr. Duterte had ordered the abolition of PHILSUCOR in October 2018, citing the overlapping functions with the SRA.

Last month, state auditors flagged the agency for failing to make progress on the abolition order, resulting in expenses worth P29.3 million.

The United Sugar Producers Federation (UNIFED) President Manuel R. Lamata, who was present during the meeting with Mr. Marcos, welcomed the planned revival of PHILSUCOR.

“We are for it. It is good for the industry. The agrarian beneficiaries can avail loans for the farm needs through PHILSUCOR,” he said in a Viber message.

Mr. Lamata said a new executive order is needed to revive PHILSUCOR, “the sooner the better.”

Aside from UNIFED, others present during the Malacañang meeting include representatives from the Luzon Federation of Sugar Producers, Inc., Kabankalan-Ilog Planters Association, Universal Robina Corp, and Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Inc.

Mr. Montemayor, the former Department of Agriculture official, lamented that some important players in the industry were not present during the meeting, including the Confederation of Sugar Producers’ Association, labor groups, and small farmers associations.

Meanwhile, Leonardo A. Lanzona, an economics professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said PHILSUCOR should “stay defunct,” given its history.

“Like the SRA, this entity would only limit competition and hinder market dynamics,” he said via Messenger chat.

Mr. Lanzona said PHILSUCOR, which “operated as a monopoly” in the Philippine sugar industry to streamline and enhance the efficiency of the sugar industry.

The agency controlled various aspects of the sugar industry, including sugar milling, processing, and distribution, “centralizing the industry’s operations under its purview,” he added.

Mr. Marcos, 65, vowed to boost local production and limit imports as much as possible after taking office on June 30, 2022.

The President earlier this month approved the SRA’s recommendation to import about 150,000 metric tons of sugar to stabilize its market prices.

He also approved delaying the start of the sugar milling season from August to September in order to improve raw sugar yield. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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