Sugar – the favorite whipping boy
THE SOUTHERN BEAT  - Rolly N. Espina () - October 13, 2007 - 12:00am

“Funny. The price of bread and confectionaries go up because of the increase in flour price. But it is sugar that gets blamed for it despite the fact that it represents only a minuscule portion of the ingredients that go into bread-making.”

That to a certain extent represented the reaction among Negros sugarmen, especially Rosendo Lopez, First Association president, and Federico Locsin III, head of the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations Inc. (CONFED) – Panay-Negros chapter.

Wednesday night, I watched Sugar Administrator Rafael Coscolluela explain on television what happened to the production of Negros Occidental, which accounts for almost 54 percent of the country’s sugar production.

But it seems he just could not connect with the consuming public amid his persistent browbeating by commentators about the rise of the retail price of sugar (refined) to P41 per kilogram and raw sugar to about P38 per kilo.

There was a collective howl about it. Nobody had done a little homework to find out what had happened.

First, milling had just started. And sugar centrals suffered an immediate slowdown in cane deliveries. Why? Because the two weeks of steady torrential rainfall virtually precluded harvesting the ripened sugarcane, much less their being hauled to the mills.

Thus, as pointed out by Coscolluela, that meant a decrease in sugar production. And, worse, the refineries of the Lopez Sugar Corp., the Victorias Milling Company and the First Farmers (the latter actually does not refine sugar) could not operate with only a handful of raw sugar.

Sugar buying soared to P1.25 per 50 kilogram of raw sugar. The reason – there were only limited stocks. And there virtually was no refined sugar.

So what happened? Big traders, who had refined and raw sugar stocks in their warehouses in Metro Manila, must have unloaded their old stocks in the market.

It takes sometime to be able to load sugar and ship it to Manila. Usually, sugar is placed in container vans when in limited quantities. Thus, it becomes explicable that there hardly was such a shipment of new sugar from Negros to the National Capital Region.

So, why the abrupt rise in the price of retailed sugar?

It has become a conditioned reflex for consumer and militant organizations to pillory sugarmen for the increase in sugar prices, although for the past several years, it has been the only commodity whose price has not risen despite the inflation.

But, as I have said, it is conditioned reflex.

As Lopez pointed out, flour, the main ingredient used by bakers, cannot be denounced because it is imported and way beyond our government’s control. Thus, you latch on to the domestic ingredients which actually represent only a very small portion of what goes into a bread and other confectionaries. That’s the tragedy of sugar, as Lopez put it.

In short, if we analyze the whole thing – we’ve been had. And we are barking up the wrong tree. And the killing of a local industry which, if we have to be honest about it, has just emerged from the doldrums and even now is facing a crisis with the expected sugar plus production.

Iloilo mayor in trouble

Like his counterpart in Bacolod City, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas found himself in trouble when the Responsible Ilonggos for Sustainable Energy (RISE) filed criminal and administrative charges against him before the Ombudsman-Visayas over his recent trip to Taiwan to inspect a coal-powered plant there.

The complaint was filed principally by Romeo Gerochi on behalf of RISE and its affiliate organizations. Gerochi heads the Freedom from Debt Coalition in Iloilo.

Treñas was accused of having accepted the invitation of Formosa Heavy Industries Corp. for the Taiwan trip on Sept. 28 to 29.

FHIC is the technical partner of Global Business Corp. that proposes to put up a 100-megawatt coal-powered plant in Iloilo City.

Treñas had admitted that the Formosa firm shouldered the expenses of his two-day trip to Taiwan.

Gerochi contended that it was unlawful, saying that a public official is banned from accepting travel grants or expenses etc. if such expenses are inappropriate or inconsistent with the interests of the country and are permitted by the head of the office, branch of agency to which he belongs.

Treñas, who used to be a leading law practitioner in Iloilo City, laughed off the complaint. “I don’t find anything wrong with the Taiwan trip,” he told Iloilo mediamen.

He stressed that the DILG had authorized his travel. Besides, he pointed out that the FHIC is not a contractor of the city. “There is no approval needed from my office to put up the coal-powered plant by the proponent,” Treñas said.

It seemed that the furor over Treñas’ trip was caused by the latter’s public observation that a coal-powered plant can do no harm even if it is situated in a thickly populated area.

Treñas noted no increase in the incidence of asthma and cancer in the areas adjacent to the three coal-powered plants that he visited. In fact, he added, a mall was just a few hundred meters away from one such coal plant. 

GBPC targets a 100-megawatt coal-powered plant in Barangay Ingore, La Paz district. This aims to address the power demands of Iloilo City with the upsurge of economic and infrastructure development.

Some members of the city council were also scheduled to fly to Taiwan yesterday for a two-day visit.

Well, as they say, the debate will continue between the environmentalists and the development-oriented local executives. This time the Ombudsman will have to rule on whether Treñas violated the law.

ADDENDUM. Malay Mayor Ceciron Cawaling is bucking the continued use of the Caticlan port by roll-on, roll-off vessels. “As mayor, I am strongly opposing the presence of large vessels in Caticlan,” Cawaling said. His position was supported by the Boracay Foundation Inc., a group of establishment owners of the tourism island. Loubelle Cann and chairman Henry Chusuey approved a resolution last Oct. 6, pointing out that there are no safety nets in place in the event of shipwrecks, mishaps or oil spills by these large ships plying the roro route.

And when they are in port, they dispose of solid waste there, posing a threat to the environment of the world-famous tourism spot, the foundation officers pointed out.

And the authorities cannot just close their eyes to the point raised by the Boracay establishments.

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