An unidentified group made a sinister attempt last Tuesday to withdraw some P110 million worth of sugar allegedly smuggled from Thailand and confiscated by customs authorities in 2010, a group representing the sugar industry disclosed on Friday.
The Sugar Master Plan Foundation (SMPF) said unidentified persons representing a “vested interest group” presented dubious court documents to customs officers to claim 55,000 bags of sugar valued at P2,000 per bag from a customs warehouse in Bulacan where the stocks of sugar are stored pending litigation “apparently with the intention to sell it to the market.”
“Fortunately, our customs officers were very alert and immediately called for backup,” and the group had to leave, SMPF executive director Felixberto T. Monasterio said in a phone interview.
No leads yet
Monasterio said he had no idea who was behind the attempt to withdraw the “smuggled” sugar. Asked if a politician could be behind it, he said: “That’s what we’re afraid of. That’s why we are now going to media.”
According to Monasterio, the Bureau of Customs already ruled last Oct. 8 that the sugar shipment was “clearly” illegal, but his group was now pressing the BOC and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to declare finally that the sugar was smuggled.
“This is so the sugar can finally be disposed of by the SRA,” he told the Inquirer.
In a statement, Monasterio raised concerns that the release of the sugar stocks to the local market would depress prices to the detriment of farmers, considering that sugar remained a “sensitive commodity.”
“Any slump in price affects farmers, as the industry gives jobs to 60,000 farmers planting sugarcane on 420,000 hectares. The industry contributes P70 billion to the country’s gross domestic product and P2 billion in value-added tax,” he said.
In 2010, the National Food Authority was allowed by the national government to import 150,000 metric tons of sugar in the first half to beef up local supply.
But in the middle of the importation process, customs officials seized a shipment of 54,907 bags of sugar from Thailand that went beyond the volume allowed the NFA. The importer was Unitrade International.
After a long legal squabble, the BOC’s Law Office declared the shipment illegal on Oct. 8, Monasterio said.
“However, another company, Yida Trading, filed last Oct. 25 a motion for reconsideration with BOC after its Oct. 8 decision, saying it is the rightful claimant of the sugar. It claims as evidence the receipt issued to it by Unitrade upon purchase of the goods,” he said.
Monasterio said he did not believe Yida Trading was the same group that attempted to get the stocks from the Bulacan warehouse on Tuesday.
“It’s good that Customs people in Bulacan are on their toes. It is to their credit that the sugar has not been pulled out by people who want to make a shortcut and make money at the expense of our sugar industry,” he said.