Big supermarts agree to slash sugar prices
Consumers may get some relief from rising sugar prices after the country’s biggest supermarkets agreed to slash their selling price to P70 a kilo, from a high of P90 to P110 a kilo.
In a statement on Friday, the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) said the owners of Robinsons Supermarket, SM Supermarket, Puregold Supermarket, and S&R Membership Shopping retail chains had agreed to the price cut following a directive from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to reduce the commodity’s suggested retail price to P70 a kilo.
“The President lauded the selfless response from these businessmen who are sacrificing not just their own inventory but also their projected business profits for the sake of the ordinary Filipinos at this time when the country is besieged by many problems,” the statement quoted Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez as saying.
“This is a classic display of the indomitable Filipino spirit of ‘bayanihan’ and love of country,” he added.
Rodriguez said SM, Robinsons and Puregold had committed to sell a million kilos each of refined sugar at the reduced price as early as next week. Consumers, however, will be allowed to buy just 1 kilo each of the cheaper sugar.
The Palace official said the Department of Trade and Industry would monitor the retailers’ compliance with the purchase limit of 1 kilo per consumer “to prevent possible household hoarding by some enterprising consumers.”
According to Rodriguez, Victorias Milling Co., a major sugar producer based in Victorias City, Negros Occidental, also committed to make 45,000 50-kilo sacks of premium refined sugar available to soft drinks companies like Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines Inc., Pepsi-Cola Products Philippines Inc. and RC Cola producer ARC Refreshments Corp.
“This is to avert a possible temporary halt in their operations that could result [in] the displacement of their workers,” he said.
On top of this pledge, Victorias also allotted 500,000 kilos of sugar for consignment in government-supported Kadiwa retail outlets in the Visayas.
The head of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) welcomed the supermarkets’ move.
“I think it’s a good thing to lower the price. This is within reason,” PCCI President George Barcelon told the Inquirer, noting that the stores’ inventories of carbonated drinks and other sweetened beverages have also been running low.
Barcelon said he hoped the sugar suppliers of these supermarket chains would also adjust their prices to facilitate fair trade. “Supermarkets usually make a fair margin on what they sell. Since they are agreeable to lowering the prices, [it] means that on their end the suppliers must also follow through [by] lowering their price,” the PCCI official said.
For House Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto, the supermarkets’ move was proof of Marcos’ “power of presidential persuasion.”
“But I suppose it was mutually agreed upon because the President is no fan of unilateral and uninformed decisions,” the Batangas representative told the Inquirer. “He dialogues, not monologues. That is the way he troubleshoots. And his tapping of big sugar sellers, instead of sugar barons, shows he understands the market as well,” Recto added.
Consumers have been burdened by the unabated increase in sugar prices, which stood at P100 a kilo as of August 19, double last year’s level of P50. The price hike has been blamed on the lack of local supply, which recently prompted a controversial importation order for as much 300,000 metric tons of sugar.
However, the order, signed for the President by then Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, was later disowned and described as ‘’illegal’’ by the Palace. The undersecretary has since resigned.
READ: DA exec quits after ‘illegal’ resolution on sugar importation
But on Thursday, Malacañang announced that the President and the sugar millers and refiners he met on August 17 eventually agreed on the importation of 150,000 metric tons, without giving a timetable for the procurement.
READ: PH importing sugar after all: Marcos okays 150,000 MT
Still, claims of a sugar shortage have been disputed by local industry groups who instead accuse unscrupulous traders of hoarding supply to artificially jack up prices. For the head of the United Sugar Producers Federation (Unifed), the warehouse raids conducted by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in Pampanga and Bulacan on Thursday, which led to the discovery of thousands of sacks of allegedly hoarded sugar, exposed just ‘’the tip of the iceberg.’’
“Resigned (Sugar Regulatory Authority [SRA] Administrator Hermenegildo] Serafica kept on saying that the country [had] ran out of sugar to be able to import [300,000 metric tons of] sugar. The traders are keeping the sugar to bring prices up and they make a killing. They bought that sugar from us for P45 per [kilo] and selling for P100 [per kg],” Unifed president Manuel Lamata told the Inquirer in a text message.
“Proof they are hoarding is there is a lot of sugar; no shortage,” said Lamata, adding that refined sugar should be sold at just P75 to P85 a kilo, not P100.
READ: Sugar shortage affects top 3 soda makers
In an interview on dzBB earlier on Friday, Lamata said: “The ones they (BOC) are catching are just the tip of the iceberg. What the government must do is conduct an inventory of all sugar mills. That’s where large volumes of sugar are stored.”
Import permit ‘recycled’
SRA data, however, showed the local sugar output for the current crop year (ending August 31) at 1.8 million metric tons—still short of the demand which stands at 2.03 million MT.
This projection was what led to the President’s decision, in consultation with industry stakeholders, to approve the importation of 150,000 metric tons of sugar on a date yet to be determined.
Meanwhile, the BOC also intercepted a cargo vessel carrying some 140,000 bags or 7,000 metric tons of imported sugar from Thailand at the Subic Port in Zambales, Malacañang said on Friday.
READ: DA to probe artificial sugar shortage
The shipment found on the MV Bangpakaew was covered by a ‘’recycled’’ import permit, which was used for the “attempted smuggling” of P45.6 million worth of sugar, the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) said.
According to the OPS, the initial investigation identified the consignee of the allegedly smuggled sugar as Oro-Agritrade Inc., under the account of ARC Refreshments Corp. “The Thai exporter is listed as Ruamkamlarp Export Co. Ltd. while the local customs broker was identified as Malou Leynes Buerano,” the OPS said.Citing information from Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service officer in charge Joeffrey Tacio, the OPS said the cargo was covered by a “Special Permit to Discharge and Verified Single Administrative Document” from BOC with a verified clearance from the SRA through a certain Rondell Manjarres.
The vessel was allowed to unload its cargo on Thursday because it was not covered by the “illegal” order to import 300,000 metric tons of sugar, the OPS said, quoting a report from Tacio.
Tacio found out that “the recycled permit was from an old allocation,” it added.
Acting Customs Commissioner Yogi Filemon ordered the vessel’s 19 crew members to be placed under BOC custody.
Charges will be filed “if evidence shows that the bureau’s port personnel are in connivance with smugglers using recycled sugar import permits,” Press Secretary Trixie Angeles said.
—With a report from Julie M. Aurelio
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