Sugar shortage affects top 3 soda makers
MANILA, Philippines — The makers of the country’s three leading brands of carbonated drinks confirmed on Tuesday that they were experiencing a shortage of premium refined sugar, a day after industry associations asked the government to immediately address the issue.
In a joint statement, Coca Cola Beverages Inc., Pepsi Cola Products Philippines Inc., and ARC Refreshments Corp., said there was a problem with the supply of “the key ingredient in many of our products.”
“We are working closely with other stakeholders of the industry and the government to address the situation,” they added.
A day earlier, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry said many of its members were, experiencing the same problem which it warned could lead to price hikes and slowdowns in the factories of companies using the staple ingredient.
Over the weekend, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he might consider importing as much as 150,000 metric tons of sugar in October if the current stock from local production and previous importations would not be enough.
The issue has stirred quite a controversy, with several high-ranking officials of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) resigning from their posts after Marcos denied signing Sugar Order No. 4 that authorized the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar.
On Tuesday, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles announced that the president had accepted the resignations of SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica and sugar regulatory board member Roland Beltran.
Citing health reasons in his resignation letter, Beltran also expressed openness to any investigation that may be conducted in connection with Sugar Order No. 4.
The president chairs the sugar regulatory board, which is the SRA governing body, by virtue of his being the concurrent Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary. Serafica was the concurrent vice chair while Beltran was the board member representing millers.
Serafica, who tendered his resignation letter on Aug. 10, said he would go back to his first love—farming. On Monday, he said he was officially leaving his post “with a light heart and clear conscience knowing that I performed the functions of my office consistent with, or within the bounds of the law.”
Another board member, Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama, representing the planters, told the media in Bacolod City that he wrote Marcos on Monday to explain the circumstances behind the issuance of the order. Valderrama said he was leaving it to the President to decide whether or not he should step down.
Sugar Order No. 4 dated Aug. 10 order was signed on behalf of Marcos by Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian and the other board members.
Sebastian later offered his apologies to the president for signing the letter.
However, he did not directly state that he was resigning from the DA. Instead, he offered only “to be relieved of my delegated authorities and the assignments and responsibilities in my capacity” as DA chief of staff and undersecretary.
The SRA officials who resigned, however, would still have to face the Senate inquiry into the controversy, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Tuesday.
Zubiri, who earlier delivered a privilege speech on the issue, said that they would summon Serafica and Beltran to the hearing.
“We welcome [their] resignation … However, that does not clear them from any possible liability resulting from violations of existing laws,” he told reporters.
Sen. JV Ejercito, on the other hand, said the next set of SRA officials should prioritize the protection of the local sugar industry and the interests of sugar farmers.
“Otherwise, the two laws that I authored, the Sugarcane Industry Development Act of 2015 and the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, will all go to waste,” he said.
The government, he added, should prosecute individuals behind the smuggling of agricultural products into the country, which had worsened over the past several years.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS AND JORDEENE B. LAGARE
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