PHILIPPINES: Major protest against Coca Cola planned over HFCS

Published: 03/20/2017, 8:02:14 AM

Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. and Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, along with mayors in the province, are expected to join the protest of multi-sectoral groups March 20 in front of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Barangay Mansilingan, Bacolod City, according to the Philippines' Sun Star newspaper.

More than 5,000 sugar industry stakeholders are expected to attend the rally to reiterate their support to the order of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) regulating the entry of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the country, and to call for the public to boycott the beverage giant, which reportedly uses HFCS on its products.

Beverage firms allegedly use HFCS as an alternative to sugar, but its unabated importation is believed to be killing the sugar industry.

Rally spokesperson Emilio Yulo III, in a press conference March 19 at Mimi's Restaurant in Bacolod, said there will be an effigy burning during the protest, which also coincides with the hearing Monday on the petition for injunction filed by Coca-Cola Femsa Philippines before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 98.

The court had denied the petition of the beverage firm for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the sugar order regulating the importation of HFCS.

Yulo said the burning of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol's effigy is to condemn his statement that SRA should suspend the implementation of the sugar order, adding that government officials are mandated to protect the sugar industry.

Piñol, as secretary of Agriculture, should protect the agriculture sector, in which the sugar industry belongs to, he added. The DA chief had said the implementation of the sugar order should be deferred because the beverage firms claimed they were not properly consulted.

However, Yulo said the Department of Agriculture (DA) is part of the Sugar Board, but Piñol was absent during the meeting when the sugar order was drafted. He noted that Piñol was one of the respondents on the TRO petition.

Others were SRA chief Anna Rosario Paner, Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, and members of the Sugar Board. Moreover, there will be reading of manifesto of support and resolutions from various officials and sectors in today's rally, Yulo said.

Through this protest, the rallyists are hoping that Malacañang will intervene and ask Piñol to "stand-down" and allow SRA to do their mandate in protecting our industry. The organizers, in a press statement, said the issue is beyond politics. They said this is a cause that everyone in Negros and in the country should embrace as this is killing the entire industry, which has helped build the economy.

"We are asking the general public to support our call to boycott Coke and other beverage companies that use HFCS instead of our sugar. We are appealing to HRANO (Hotel and Restaurant Association of Negros Occidental) and tiangge owners to stop patronizing these products as well," they said. The statement added: "We are not asking much. We just want them to moderate their corporate greed. If they profit from us, they should buy organically made products that will ensure a balanced economy and more importantly, safe for our people to consume."

With thousands expected to mobilize Monday at the Coke plant, the organizers are anticipating a traffic jam in the area and in three other areas where the protesters will converge.

The three areas of convergence will be along the Bata-Airport Circumferential Road for the northern contingent; Cegasco Circumferential Road for those from the south; and another in Murcia town, near the public cemetery. The rallyists will come in as early as 6 a.m. and will line up along those roads to pull out together around 7:30 a.m. The groups are expected to be at the Coke plant around 8 a.m.

The organizers sought the assistance of Bacolod City Police Office and the Traffic Management Unit, but they are asking the public to avoid the area as they seek their understanding and sympathy for their cause. The organizers also informed bus companies to reroute their vehicles passing through Murcia town, and take the Abuanan road all the way to the south to reach Bacolod.

"We are also asking the public coming from that area to leave early if they have businesses in the city as we are expecting a road closure by 8 a.m. as our trucks will come in from all points," the organizers said. Emergency units are also on standby to ensure the safety of everybody.

Senior Superintendent Jack Wanky, BCPO officer-in-charge, confirmed that security plan for Monday's rally is in place, adding that enough policemen will be deployed to ensure peace and order.

Aside from the local planters groups, multi-sectoral groups coming from Negros Oriental and Panay are also expected to participate in the rally spearheaded by the Confederation of Sugar Producers Inc., National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, and United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines.

Marañon, in a statement Sunday, said the Provincial Government is in solidarity with the sugar industry in its campaign against the unregulated importation of HFCS.

Anchored on data presented by the SRA, the volume of HFCS inflow being consumed by soda and beverage companies is equivalent to more than five million 50-kilogram bags of sugar, he said. Imagine the far-reaching effect of this importation to the economy and to the millions in the labor sector, the governor added.

"Millions of small farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries and their families will greatly suffer as they are highly dependent on this commodity for their livelihood," he said, adding that medical studies also indicate that consuming HFCS results to various life-threatening diseases, including diabetes. Last week, the Negros Occidental Provincial Board, led by Vice Governor Lacson, also approved a resolution supporting the sugar order. Also supporting the protest action is the Association of Chief Executives (ACE) in Negros led by Victorias City Mayor Frederick Francis Palanca.

In their manifesto of support, the mayors said they are one with the Capitol officials calling for the implementation of the sugar order, as they urged Piñol "to revisit his mandate and lend support to the sugar industry instead of siding with beverage companies."

They also appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to task the DA to join and help the industry in the fight. Moreover, the National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines (Nacusip), the largest sugar workers and farmers federation in the country, stand in firm solidarity with the other stakeholders of the sugar industry in condemning the unabated, uncontrolled, and unregulated importation of HFCS which is directly responsible in the rapid and unfortunate drop in the prices of domestic sugar.

Nacusip also called on Piñol to retract and apologize for his insensitive statement in seeking authorization from the President to hold the implementation of the sugar order.

Meanwhile, the Partido Manggagawa in Negros said it "will support other stakeholders in the industry fighting against the entry of HFCS if together we will join hands against globalization and for the protection of sugar workers."

The group added that the globalization that shaped the formation of World Trade Organizations and its policy of trade liberalization and a subsequent Free Trade Agreements among nations is the root cause of the entry HFCS and other imported products into the country driving the local sugar industry in peril.