'Defer implementation of 10-% bio-ethanol content in gasoline'

VALENCIA CITY (MindaNews/26 November) – Government should defer the implementation of the 10-percent ethanol content in fuels owing to a shortage in sugarcane, a major source of ethanol, most participants to the public consultation Wednesday held here by the National Biofuels Board said.

Republic Act 8479 or the Biofuels Act presently requires gas stations to sell gasoline with an ethanol content of five percent and diesel containing two percent of the same substance. It further provides that by 2011, the blend should be increased to 10 percent.

Jose Rojo Alisla, the representative from the Sugar Regulatory Administration who opened the consultation, told close to 150 participants that the increase in sugar prices now could draw more planters to choose sugar as a crop. But the law of supply and demand, he said, dictates that prices would eventually go down when there are too many suppliers.

He said the production of sugar for ethanol would provide alternative income opportunities for the sugar farmers once the prices go down.

Some sugar industry stakeholders, however, disagreed with Alisla.

Antonio Gamboa, a trustee of the Bukidnon Mill District Development Foundation said there is no assurance that farmers will stick to planting sugarcane when world sugar prices collapse.

“Farmers won’t stay to suffer losses,” Gamboa told panelists in the consultation.

He then suggested that the scheduled increase to 10-percent ethanol content for fuels be deferred.

“Why are we too much in a hurry, just to beat the deadline? We are too much in a hurry here,” he added.

Gamboa told MindaNews the plan is detrimental to the sugar industry as it tends to divide the sugar planters.

Manuel Alincastre earlier said that Bukidnon sugar millers can still accommodate one million tons of sugar, as they are operating only at 80 percent of their actual capacity.

“If you plan to build bio-ethanol plans, build them and encourage sugar for ethanol plantations away (from us),” he said.

But Dr. Victorino Peralta, of the Bukidnon Planters Association (BPA) said the increase in mixture could be beneficial to the farmers because it provides additional market for their crop.

He said increasing the mixture could also increase the demand for sugar cane. Besides, he said, it will help mitigate air pollution, which is one of the intents of the use of bio-ethanol.

Alvin Lim of the Department of Energy’s Oil Industry Management Bureau assured the participants that the bio-ethanol demand will provide alternative market for the sugar industry.

Mario Marasigan, director of the DOE’s Renewable Energy Management Bureau said if the price for ethanol is good, it will also be good to farmers.

He assured that the law has mechanisms to ensure that procuring locally produced ethanol will be prioritized over importation.

At the same time, however, he said that regardless of whether the blend is retained at five percent or increased to 10 percent there would still be importation because of the shortage of supply.

According to a 2009 baseline computation, the country can produce only 39 million liters of ethanol but it needs 223 million liters.

The National Biofuels Board highlighted the shortage as an opportunity for local sugarcane growers to increase production.

Marasigan stressed that they do not want to divide the sugar planters.

“We only wanted to provide an alternative market,” he argued.

Gamboa told MindaNews the board was being inconsistent by proposing to follow the timeframe.

“If they import now when the blend is only five percent, what more when the blend is raised to 10 percent,” he said.

Gamboa said the supply of sugar intended for food products would be threatened by the campaign for ethanol production.

“Banana and pineapple plantations are already encroaching into sugarcane areas,” he said.

Wilson Locsin, chair of the Hindangon Multi-purpose Cooperative, told MindaNews the government should retain the required ethanol content at five percent as sugar is still expensive.

He said the government should instead provide more support to farmers like farm to mill roads and technical assistance.

He said the 10-percent blend should be imposed at least after three years to give them time to enjoy the high price of sugar.

It was learned that the five-percent mandatory blend was implemented only in Luzon.

Marlene Wee, of the Caltex dealers from Iligan City, told MindaNews no one in Mindanao sells the five-percent blend.

She said the government has provided for no guidelines on the law yet. But she said they will comply and will prepare to upgrade their facilities once furnished with the guidelines.

Marasigan told MindaNews there is no assurance the prices of fuel will go down when the blend is raised to 10 percent. He said these will depend on the world prices of both oil and ethanol. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)