Scholarships sweeten workers' propects

The national government has earmarked a total of P98.5 million to provide free college education to eligible dependents of sugar industry workers and small cane farmers, Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo, chairman of the House committee on higher and technical education, said over the weekend.

“The amount will pay for the scholarships of qualified children and other dependents of small cane growers as well as plantation workers, including those employed in sugar mills, refineries, distilleries,” Romulo said.

“The scholars will be enrolled in chemical engineering, agriculture, agricultural engineering and mechanics, sugar technology and related higher education programs,” he said.

The P98.5-million funding is among the items in P10.53-billion allocation for the Commission on Higher Education  in the proposed P3-trillion General Appropriations Act for 2016.

The Sugarcane Industry Development Law, which Congress passed only last summer, established the scholarship grants to help provide a better future for the families of workers and tillers, according to Romulo.

“The scholarships will also help develop the human resources that local sugar sector needs to compete forcefully against foreign suppliers,” he said.

Under the Sugarcane Industry Development Law, or Republic Act 10659, government is spending P2 billion annually starting 2016 to brace the sector against imported sugar, amid lower tariffs that have already fallen to 5 percent this year.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Economic Community allows the free flow of farm commodities, including sugar, via reduced tariffs. 

The P2-billion yearly subsidy will be distributed as follows: 15 percent for grants to block farms, 15 percent for socialized credit, 15 percent for research and development, 5 percent for scholarship grants, and 50 percent for infrastructure buildup, such as new trans-loading ports, farm-to-mill roads and irrigation facilities.

Partly due to the lingering dry spell in the Negros provinces, the country’s total sugar output is projected to reach only 2.31 million metric tons this year -- short of the original 2.5 million target.

Backed by 762,000 farmers and workers, the sugar industry contributed some P88 billion to the Philippine economy in 2014, according to the Sugar Regulatory Administration.

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