Educational, health and medical benefits for sugar farmers sought

In her desire to provide a “decent living” for the country’s 62,000 sugar farmers, Negros Occidental Rep. Ma. Lourdes “Marilou” Arroyo has batted for the expansion of the government’s socio-economic program to address their educational, health and medical needs.

She said the government should strengthen the rights of the sugar workers by augmenting their income and “to ensure they reap their just shares in the fruits of production.”

“According to the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), the Philippines sugar industry contributes no less than P70 Billion to our economy annually,” she said.

“Out of the total land area of about 30 million hectares, sugarcane is planted in around 422,500 hectares in the Philippines, with about 62,000 farmers engaging in the activity as their primary means of making a living,” she noted.

Arroyo, sister-in-law of former Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has filed House Bill 2722 to amend Republic Act 6982 or the Social Amelioration Law to include educational, health and medical benefits for the sugar farmers.

“Under the RA 6982, out of the lien imposed on the gross production of sugar, 80 percent of which is distributed as cash bonus to each worker in the sugar farm or mill based on the proportion of work rendered by the workers while the remaining 20 percent is allocated for the socio-economic plans and programs that only include a death benefit program, a limited number of socio-economic projects, and maternity benefits,” she said.

Under HB 2722, effective on the sugar crop year of 2019-2020, a lien of P10 per picul of sugar, instead of P5, shall be imposed on the gross production of sugar to primarily augment the income of sugar workers, and to finance social and economic programs to improve their livelihood and well-being.

The measure provides that there shall be an automatic additional lien of not exceeding P1 for every two years for the succeeding ten years from the effectivity of the proposed Act.

“As we take more progressive steps for the viability and sustainability of the sugar industry, we must, at the same time, consider the well-being of our sugar farmers. Providing them with better support for their health and medical concerns, as well as support and opportunities for their educational needs will not only fortify the law and policy of the State, it will also bear fruit in terms of contributing to the overall personal and professional development of the individual laborers and families of this group of our nation’s work force as a whole,” Arroyo said.

HB 2722 mandates the Secretary of Labor and Employment to use the 10 percent of the 20 percent share for socio-economic programs to provide health, medical and educational benefits for the sugar farmers.

“Amending the given provisions in this law will redound upon both the economic development of our country and the welfare of the sugar farmers by further enabling them with the means to improve their lives to a degree that will energize, inspire and encourage them to pour their productive vigor into creating and contributing more output that will be of great benefit to them, the sugar industry, and the country,” Arroyo said.

Under the bill, the 10-man Sugar Tripartite Council will be required to submit monthly reports to Department of Agriculture (DA) of the implementation of the socio-economic programs.

The measure tasks the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, in coordination with concerned government agencies and sugarcane stakeholders, to promulgate the rules and regulations of this Act within 60 days starting from the effectivity of the proposed Act.

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