By Julius Mariveles and Rakki Raquinel
BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – Past and present officials of the country’s Sugar Regulatory Administration weighed in on the issue of sugar imports and the need to increase production in the sugar industry that remains to be a backbone of Negros island’s economy and a significant contributor to the country’s export earnings.
Former planters representative to the Sugar Board, lawyer Emilio Bernardino Yulo, agreed with Pablo Luis Azcona that sugar imports are not the solution to the lingering problem of production shortage.
“We have been so used to importing as a fix to the yearly shortage in production,” Azcona told DNX on the day he was sworn in in Malacanang as the new planters representative to the SRA.
Former SRA chief and provincial Governor Rafael Coscolluela, on the other hand, said Azcona is “half wrong, half right,” while Board Member Andrew Montelibano who heads the provincial board’s agriculture committee, favored Azcona’s views.
Azcona said sugar production had always been at a shortfall over the past 30 years except for one or two crop years during which the country had a bumper crop.
Yulo, who comes from a family of sugarplanters, said “national production should match with the national demand” through providing long-term solutions that would increase productivity.
He pointed out that the country should do a “mass distribution of high-yielding varities” and to determine if the lands of the plantations are still fertile after 80 years of use.
Montelibano, who comes from a prominent clan of sugarplanters, on the other hand, agreed with Azcona.
“I believe he is right about what he said that it’s not an issue that should be rushed. This would take time, this would take a lot of effort, and this should be studied at how we can increase our production,” he said. .
The Agriculture Chairman also said there’s a lot of ways in addressing the problem such as lowering the price of farm inputs to increase productivity.
Coscolluela, for his part, said Azcona’s approach to the issue is “half wrong, half right” for former Governor Rafael ‘Lito’ Coscolluela.
Coscolluela pointed out that Azcona is right about determining a long term solution to increase productivity, however, he is wrong about being against importation as the situation requires an immediate solution.
He added that he agrees with importing 300,000 metric tons of sugar that is a combination of raw and refined, half of which is for industrial users, and the other half for household ones, but this was rejected by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The head of state is only open to the possibility of importing half of the proposed amount when needed.
He added that farming practices should also be improved to increase productivity in the industry.