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‘Economic sabotage’ eyed in sugar imports

Bayan Muna says 2022 budget not for COVID-19

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate. INQUIRER.net file photo / Noy Morcoso

The Department of Justice and the Ombudsman should look into the Duterte administration’s bid to import 200,000 metric tons of sugar in addition to other food importations, an opposition representative said on Friday.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, deputy minority leader in the House of Representatives, slammed the government for its “default solution” of “unbridled importation” at the expense of the country’s agriculture sector.

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“If there’s African swine fever, it’s to import pork. If there’s pestilence, import rice. If there’s bird flu, import chicken. If galunggong (blackfin scad) prices go up, import galunggong. If there’s a typhoon, import sugar,” Zarate said in a statement.

“They [are] too eager to look for justifications to import any product. This pattern raises doubts,” he said.

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DA: Nothing irregular

The latest example, Zarate said, was the government’s plan to import 200,000 MT of sugar, which the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) approved on Feb. 8.

“In their desire to import 200,000 MT of sugar, it seems the SRA and the Department of Agriculture (DA) is sabotaging our own sugar industry, not just the planters but the plantation workers and farmers,” Zarate said.

“It’s very apparent that this will favor someone. This is not only [irregular], but is also economic sabotage given that we are in a pandemic and struggling to uplift the economy,” he said.

But Agriculture Secretary William Dar insisted that there was nothing irregular in the importations and those were driven by facts.

“There is no truth to claims that our decision to import [was] driven by corruption. This is backed by data and we hope the public understands this,” Dar said during a Laging Handa briefing.

He insisted that a “prefinal crop estimate” of raw sugar production was at 2.072 million MT, which was lower than the 2.099 million MT prefinal crop estimate before Typhoon “Odette” (international name: Rai) hit in December 2021.

Sugar production up 42%

But only days before Dar approved the sugar importation, the SRA itself reported that refined sugar production in the first week of February grew by 42 percent to 353,779.1 MT and the total sugarcane milled was at 12.09 million MT.

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The SRA also reported that the raw sugar supply was up by 2.3 percent to 1.27 million MT with six more months remaining in the sugar crop year, which ends in August.

“Why are we importing sugar while our sugar producers are claiming that sugar production has increased compared to the previous year? We are at 1.2 million MT, compared to 900,000 MT the previous year,” Zarate said.

“Sugar prices also went down and Odette did not damage sugarcane farms. So there is no reason to import sugar,” he said.

“If the DA is saying that prices of food items are high, then they should study placing price controls on food items, like galunggong and sugar,” Zarate added.

The Regional Trial Court in Sagay, Negros Occidental, stopped the approved importation upon the complaint of the Rural Sugar Planters Association.

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TAGS: DA, imports, SRA, sugar, Zarate
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