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Villar urges use of Malampaya Fund for ethanol and biogas development

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food on Tuesday recommended the use of the Malampaya natural-gas fund for the development of ethanol and biogas as alternative energy sources.

Sen. Cynthia Villar, committee chairman, said her proposal would not only promote the use of clean energy but would help the local sugar industry rise up to the challenge of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) integration in 2015.

Villar made the suggestion at the second public hearing on the proposed Sugar Cane Industry Development Act, jointly conducted by the Committees on Agriculture and Food, Government Corporations and Public Enterprises, Ways and Means and Finance.

During the hearing, Mario Marasigan, director of the Renewable Energy Management Bureau under the Department of Energy, said his office only has a P13-million budget for biofuel research and development, which prompted Villar to make the suggestion.

“Perhaps, you can tell [Energy] Secretary [Jericho] Petilla that the sugar industry is looking for funds to develop ethanol and energy from biogas. Maybe we can get from the Malampaya funds,” she said.

Ethanol and biogas can be produced from sugar cane.

Villar said the measly budget would not be enough to help the sugar industry, which has sought help from law makers in preparation for the imposition of lower sugar tariffs—from 10 percent to 5 percent—among Asean countries in 2015.

“What will happen to the sugar industry with only P13 million?” Villar asked Marasigan.

In an interview after the hearing, Villar said the proposed Sugar Cane Industry Development Act and her proposal to tap the Malampaya Fund for ethanol and biomass would help the sugar cane industry.

“The sugar industry is asking for help because it will be head-on in competition [with other Asean members] in 2015,when the tariff would be reduced from 10 percent to 5 percent. They’re asking for help to pass this bill to help them be competitive,” she said.

Responding to questions, Villar said she is confident that the proposed sugar cane industry development bill would be passed in the Senate, as she has co-authored the measure with Sens. Nancy Binay, Francis Escudero, Antonio Trillanes IV and Joseph Victor Ejercito.

She said the bill was passed in the House of Representatives in the 15th Congress but not in the Senate.

KMP rejects proposal to create ‘sugar fund’

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) on Tuesday rejected the proposal to put up a sugar fund to cushion the impact of the zero-tariff regime in the sugar industry that will be implemented in 2015.

 The sugar fund, according to KMP, will be will be another source of corruption by government officials and sugar barons.

KMP, along with the Samahang Magbubukid ng Batangas (Sambat), said the sugar fund would lead to rampant smuggling activities that will adversely impact on the sugar industry.

KMP Deputy Secretary-General Willy Marbella warned that next year’s implementation of “no tariff” or the full-scale liberalization of the sugar industry would result into the massive dumping of sugar into the country.

“Just like in the rice industry, the removal of tariffs in the sugar industry will surely result in proliferation of smugglers and the strengthening of monopoly and control by sugar cartels in the country,” he said.

“The WTO [World Trade Organization] and its policies of so-called free trade are the main culprits in the continuing landlessness, hunger and poverty suffered by Filipino farmers,” he said.

KMP and Sambat issued a joint statement after the Senate committee on agriculture Villar conducted a hearing on four bills seeking to strengthen the sugarcane industry by creating a “sugar fund.”

Under the bills filed by Senators Escudero, Trillanes, Ejercito and Binay, the sugar fund will be utilized to finance sugar industry development projects that includes, among others, Special Economic Zones and Agro-Industrial Sugarcane Districts.

“Instead of creating another cash cow and source of corruption by bureaucrats and sugar barons, we call on the Senate to institute genuine protection of farm workers who are the backbone of the sugar industry,” Sambat Secretary-General Agaton Bautista said.

Bautista expressed fears that “under the guise of so-called sugar development, the proposal to finance the establishment of Special Economic Zones and Sugarcane Districts could lead to land-use conversion of vast sugar haciendas in the country and eviction of farmers.

“Only big landlords in sugar estates would benefit from the sugar fund. Taxpayers’ money would again be used in transforming vast portions of sugar haciendas into so-called Special Economic Zones,” Bautista said.

He added that so-called Sugarcane Districts would be pilot areas of sugar block farming by the agriculture department that would result in land grabbing and displacement of farm workers.

         

 

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