Greg warns return of ‘Batang Negros’

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

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BACOLOD City – Rep. Greg Gasataya recalled the time when Negros Island was “facing hunger because of the collapse of the sugar industry” as he pushed for an inquiry into the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Critics claimed there was massive importation and widespread use of the alternative sweetener, causing the local sugar industry to lose billions of pesos in revenue and jobs for farmworkers.

“With the importation of HFCS and its impending domination in industries using sugar as essential ingredient, we feel something is dragging us back after we have courageously moved forward,” Gasataya said in a privilege speech on Monday.

He and 14 other lawmakers introduced a resolution urging appropriate House committees to hold an inquiry in aid of legislation on the “impact of the importation, use and sale of the HFCS in the Philippines on the sustainability of the sugar industry.”

Negros Island, a major sugar producer, experienced “major devastation” in the early 1980s “when the sugar industry was in crisis,” said Gasataya.

“United States stopped buying most of its sugar from the Philippines, and sugar prices fell at [their] lowest,” he said. “In May 1984, a boy, Joel Abong, was confined in a government hospital and died two weeks after [a] picture [of him] was taken by a journalist from the San Francisco Examiner.”

Abong “died of tuberculosis and third-degree malnutrition…because he had nothing to eat,” Gasataya claimed. “Si Joel po ang mukha ng Batang Negros ng mga panahong iyon (Joel was the face of the children of Negros at the time).”

He said Negrenses at the time claimed “they were nearly walking dead [sic]. In our place, we call it tiempo muerto, or dead season.”

“Three decades later, Negros is once again confronted with an issue threatening to bring us back to a situation we all despise,” said Gasataya. “This is not the kind of throwback we want for our people.”

He acknowledged that he was “no expert in these things.” “I don’t want to pretend that I’m an authority in the sugar industry or that I know better. I’m not a sugar planter, neither is my family,” he said.

But “we need not have a degree in economics or commerce to stand with the farmers and the workers,” said Gasataya. “We need not be businessmen or sugar tycoons for us to take interest and join this fight.”

He went on to cite figures indicating that the rise in HFCS importation was resulting in local sugar production losses.

“Evidently the entry of HFCS, which is almost 50-percent cheaper than our locally produced sugar, is a big problem not just for sugar planters but more so for our sugar workers,” said the congressman.

The resolution was referred to the House committee on rules led by Rodolfo Fariñas, said a coauthor, Abang-Lingkod party-list Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano.

Fariñas’ committee will further determine the appropriate panel to handle the proposal, Paduano said.

Mayor Evelio Leonardia said he understands the situation’s impact on the sugar industry.

“We are talking about the survival of the sugar industry, our lifeblood,” he said. “Despite our ‘graduation’ from mono-crop economy, it cannot be denied that the sugar industry still affects a big number of people and the economy.”/PN




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