‘NO TO COKE, HFCS!’ | Thousands turn up at anti-corn sugar protest

BY MAE SINGUAY

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Protesters surround a slogan calling for the boycott of beverage companies using high-fructose corn syrup during a rally in front of the Coca-Cola FEMSA Philippines, Inc. bottling plant in Barangay Mansilingan, Bacolod City on Monday, March 20. ARCHIE REY ALIPALO/PN

BACOLOD City – “No to drugs. No to Coke. No to HFCS.”

Protesters chanted these words as they gathered in front of the bottling plant of a beverage company in Barangay Mansilingan on Monday to call against the importation and use of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Sugar producers and farmers, agrarian reform beneficiaries, labor leaders, and local government officials claimed the alternative sweetener is dangerous to human health and its importation and use lower the demand for locally produced sugar.

They also called for the boycott of Coca-Cola FEMSA Philippines, Inc. and other companies using the HFCS.

Superintendent Noel Polines, chief of the Operations and Plans Unit of the Bacolod City Police Office, estimated the number of participants at “more than 5,000.”

The protesters were from Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental and Iloilo. Teachers and environmentalists were among them.

While not a few commuters were dismayed by the traffic congestion the protest created, the activity was peaceful. No untoward incident happened, Polines said.

At the rally, Vice Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson of Negros Occidental said the Sangguniang Panlalawigan is supporting the sugar industry stakeholders’ cause.

On March 15, he said, the Provincial Board approved a resolution supporting the Sugar Regulatory Administration’s (SRA) Sugar Order No. 3, which put in place stricter regulations in the importation of HFCS.

Coca-Cola has filed a civil suit against the SRA over the Sugar Order before a Quezon City court. It asked Regional Trial Court Branch 98 to declare the Sugar Order null and void and issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against its implementation.

The court pursued the civil suit but denied the request for TRO.

Meanwhile Councilor Cindy Rojas of Bacolod City read a Sangguniang Panlungsod resolution expressing gratitude and support to the SRA for issuing Sugar Order No. 3 to control the entry of HFCS.

Mayor Jose Benito Alonzo of Pontevedra town read a message of Juan Miguel Zubiri, one of the senators who pushed for an inquiry into the importation and use of HFCS and their impact on the local sugar industry.

“Along with senators Cynthia Villar and Richard Gordon and other senators who feel the plight of our sugar farmers who have been affected by the unabated entry of HFCS in the country, we promise to fast-track the Senate inquiry,” Zubiri said in his message.

The senator, who has roots in Negros Occidental, “[condemns] multinationals and other HFCS industrial users that … led to the drastic drop of sugar prices.”

“More than five million Filipinos are dependent on this industry, and we will not allow these foreign companies to crush their livelihood,” said Zubiri.

He also reminded Agriculture secretary Emmanuel Piñol to “revisit his mandate and protect the agriculture sector and the small farmers instead of taking the side of foreign interests.”

Piñol earlier said he will request President Rodrigo Duterte to authorize him to suspend Sugar Order No. 3. The Cabinet secretary claimed soft drink companies, including Coca-Cola, were not consulted.

An effigy of the head of Piñol with a Coca-Cola body was burned after the rally.

United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines, Inc. president Manuel Lamata said they will continue opposing the HFCS and calling for the boycott of Coca-Cola. Their cause is for everybody, he said.

Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers, Inc. president Danilo Abelita also said they will put up streamers and other materials informing the public about the effects of the alternative sweetener./PN