Last Monday, while I was with President Rody Duterte, the rich sugar hacienderos of Negros Occidental employed once again a time-worn strategy of holding a public rally and engage in name calling to get what they want.
Without even presenting proof, placards hoisted by the well-organised and obviously well-funded demonstrators called me “Money Piñol.” obviously insinuating that I received money from Coca Cola and calling me Anti-Farmer.
A report from Inquirer correspondent Carla Gomez said the “6,000 demonstrators” who staged the rally in front of the offices of Coca Cola Philippines to denounce the soft drinks company’s use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which they said was killing the sugar industry.
They cited that because of the massive use by Coca Cola (also Pepsi Cola) of HFCS, the prices of sugar dropped from P1,800 per bag of 50 kilos to only P1,300 per bag last week.
Aside from calling me names and burning my effigy, the protesters also called for a boycott of Coca Cola products, a call which Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon, an old hand in playing the game of popular politics, supported by ordering the ban the sale and sponsorship of Coca Cola in the province in April.
To clearly understand this controversy, allow me to give readers a background on the issue.
Coca Cola FEMSA Philippines and Pepsi Cola started relying heavily on the use of HFCS about five years ago when the prices of local sugar doubled compared to that of sugar coming from Thailand.
Nobody complained about HFCS until the prices dropped from P1,800 per bag to P1,300 last week. That was when the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), where I sit as Chairman of the Board, recommended to President Rody Duterte that the import of HFCS should have a cap of just over 280,000 metric tons a year.
I was supposed to join that meeting in Panacan, Davao City Feb. 16 but strong winds and heavy rains aborted my flight on board a small plane from Palawan to Davao City.
President Duterte supported the SRA proposal and it led to the issuance of Sugar Order No. 3 which places a cap on the volume of HFCS to be imported and imposes stiff tariff and duties on the imported commodity.
Following the issuance of SO No. 3, Coca Cola FEMSA, accompanied by the Mexican Ambassador, and Pepsi Cola Philippines, met with me to ask for a dialogue with sugar industry stakeholders and the SRA so a win-win solution could be reached.
Coca Cola FEMSA also filed a suit before a Quezon City Court which named me as one of the respondents.
During the meeting with the Mexican Ambassador (FEMSA is a Mexican corporation), Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola executives, I was briefed that the operations of Coca Cola FEMSA would be adversely affected and they might have to shut down their Davao Plant if SO 3 is implemented immediately.
It was scheduled to take effect two Fridays ago and HFCS shipments for both Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola are now being held up in the different ports of the country.
Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola declared they were willing to buy more local sugar but they needed time to make adjustments in their manufacturing processes which were designed to use HFCS.
Following the meeting with the executives of Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, I recommended that the implementation of SO 3 be held in abeyance pending wider consultations to achieve a win-win solution, a recommendation which was supported by Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez.
During the meeting in Malacañang to resolve the issue, a certain Manuel Lamata who is reportedly the president of the United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines kept on dropping the name of President Duterte and was rowdy and disrespectful to those who attended the meeting by raising his voice during the discussions.
Problems like this are not resolved by raising voices or name calling.
This is better addressed in a mature and conciliatory manner because that has always been proven as the best way of solving problems.
Now, let us reconcile the issues.
Clarification Number 1:
Guess who was President of the Philippines when the use of HFCS was allowed by government?
You are right! President Benigno Aquino III whose presidential candidate the hacienderos of Negros Occidental supported in the last elections.
So, here is a situation where sugar planters, acting like spoiled brats, are accusing me of being anti-farmer for seeking a win-win solution to a problem which was created by the very administration they supported.
Clarification Number 2:
I did not ask for the scrapping of Sugar Order No. 3 but simply recommended that it be held in abeyance pending the resolution of the issues raised by Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola which are legitimate businesses operating in the Philippines for so long now.
I believe that if things could be worked out, the sugar industry could get a bigger share of the sugar requirements of both Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola thus getting a better deal.
Clarification Number 3:
It is not Lamata or his ilk who faces a suit before the Quezon City Court. It is I as Chairman of the SRA board and the SRA administrator and members of the board.
Did I, in exchange for recommending that wider consultations be made pending the full implementation of SO 3, ask Coca Cola to drop the charges against me or the SRA Board?
No, I did not. The suit is still pending before the courts.
Ako ang naka-demanda, hindi kayo!
Clarification Number 4:
Lamata and his group, by making those placards “Money Piñol,” are insinuating that I was bribed by Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola in recommending a stay on the implementation of SO 3.
They accused me of betraying the sugar workers and that I am anti-farmer.
I have no interest in Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola. I do not even drink soft drinks anymore.
Through this post, I am challenging Lamata and his group to show proof that I am corrupt and I will resign immediately.
The days of bullying are over. You may have succeeded in doing that during the previous administration but you cannot do that to me.
By the way, you are accusing me of oppressing sugar workers and stakeholders? May I just ask how much are you paying your sugarcane workers daily? Is it P80 or P100 per day?
Look who is making money in the name of the poor sugar workers.
(Photo of rally in Bacolod downloaded from the Philippine Daily Inquirer and sugarcane worker in Bais City loading canes in a “bagon” downloaded from an open website.)