Farmers’ groups asked the authorities to take over operations of a Batangas sugar mill they say closed down due to the government non-stop importation policies as well as failure to stop smuggling of agricultural products into the country.
Representatives of more than 12,000 sugar farm workers of the Central Azucarera de Don Pedro, Inc. (CADPI) in Nasugbu, Batangas protested in front of mill operator Roxas Holdings, Inc. (RHI) in Taguig City on Friday, March 17, demanding immediate aid for their abrupt loss of livelihood since December of last year.
Dumping dried up and rotting sugarcane shoots in front of RHI’s headquarters to show the status of their un-harvested and un-milled crop, the protesters also pressed the government to re-open the mill instead of relying on sugar imports.
They were joined by members of the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW).
CADPI, one of the oldest and biggest raw sugar producers in Luzon, filed for permanent closure last December 15 after “experiencing operational and financial challenges affecting the sugar industry in the Batangas area.”
The closure affects 10,980 hectares of sugarcane areas and has so far left 4,584 sugarcane planters bankrupt.
UMA spokesperson and NFSW secretary general John Milton Lozande said CADPI’s abrupt closure ignores its existing milling contracts with small planters as well as its service agreements with several hauling partners.
“Sugar farm workers who cut and load sugarcane from the fields to the milling facilities have been jobless since December. The RHI Agri-Business Development Corporation (RADC) also entered into crop loan and contract growing agreements with various sugar planters who are not yet paid due to the mill closure,” Lozande said.
Lozande also revealed that the farmers held a dialogue with Department of Agriculture (DA) undersecretary Domingo Panganiban last February 15 who promised to have their crops milled at the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT).
Lozande said that both the DA and the Batangas provincial government agreed to fund the cost of transporting 60 to 70 truckloads of sugarcane to CAT, but remains unfulfilled until the planters’ crops have gone way past their regular harvesting period.
The affected farm workers and planters are demanding that the promised fund be used for compensation for their losses instead.
Aside from the uncontrolled smuggling of sugar into the country, KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos blamed the situation to the government’s “non-stop importation” policy, with the latest Sugar Order instructing the importation of some 440,000 metric tons of sugar.
“The government should support local sugar farmers and planters instead of relying on sugar imports,” Ramos said. # Raymund B. Villanueva/Kodao Productions