Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District) yesterday stressed the need to veer away from focusing on sugar alone, and to work at transforming the entire sugarcane industry into a diversified multi-product producer.
Reforms must be made now to ensure that we will have nothing to fear in 2015 when trade liberalization kicks in, Benitez said, in his keynote address before more than 1,000 delegates to the 59th Annual National Convention of the Philippine Sugar Technologists Association, at the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City.
Benitez, who outlined the salient features of his House Bill 6113 or the Sugarcane Industry Development Act, stressed that to transform into a multi-product and diversified industry, the challenge is for all stakeholders to unite and act with the same vision.
“By 2015, if we do not see even a slight change in our policy environment, we will be more than vulnerable to our competitors in the world market. We cannot be complacent,” he said.
He said HB 6113 recognizes the necessity for structural change by promoting the development of the sugarcane industry as a whole, enhancing the value of sugarcane through diversification, providing more comprehensive regulatory mechanisms, and assuring sources of financing for the programs provided in the policy.
The bill mandates the establishment of Special Economic Zones or of nuclear farms or agro-industrial districts for the sugarcane industry, he said.
The bill also aims to establish a Sugar Fund to help finance the transformation of the industry, Benitez added.
“The bill just provides the fuel for change”, he said, pointing out that it is the industry that must re-tool and adapt to change.
“If the industry does not adapt to the changes happening around it, there would be no industry to talk about in the future,” he added.
The mills must re-tool their operations to produce bioethanol or biofuel that increases the value of feedstock or sugarcane, he added.
Benitez said HB 6113 has been recently passed in two of the three committees where it was referred to in Congress, and will soon be tackled in the Committee on Appropriations. He is hopeful that the measure will be passed before the end of the 15th Congress.
The PHILSUTECH convention guests and participants were welcomed by Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama. Also leading the convention are PHILSUTECH Chairman of the Board Primitivo Rivera and president Mario Palma. Convention Chairman is Linley Retirado.
The opening program was followed by Divisional Technical Sessions and Exhibitors Innovative Technology Presentations, to be capped by a general assembly tomorrow, and the closing ceremonies that will see the proclamation of the newly-elected directors of PHILSUTECH.
Sugar Regulatory Administrator Regina Martin will be the guest speaker at the luncheon program today.*CPG