Hontiveros uncovers alleged government-sponsored sugar smuggling
MANILA, Philippines —Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday exposed what she called a “government-sponsored” sugar smuggling scandal in a press conference, revealing the timeline of the importation of refined sugar under Sugar Order No. 6, issued by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).
Hontiveros noted that a shipment of 260 20-foot containers came on February 9, way before its earliest possible arrival of March 1, after undergoing the correct processing.
“Why am I belaboring these dates and timelines? Because it seems that there are people who are jumping the gun. Mayroon mga advance mag-isip,” she said.
(Some people plan and think ahead.)
Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin was tagged in the issue.
Hontiveros said that based on an undated memorandum order, three importers were already identified to be given sugar allocations — All Asian Countertrade, Sucden Philippines Inc. and Edison Lee Marketing Corporation.
Agriculture Undersecretary and Sugar Board chairperson Domingo Panganiban issued the memorandum order to SRA Administrator David John Alba and two other board members, Pablo Azcona and Mitzi Mangwag.
Meanwhile, Hontiveros showed a letter dated January 13 in which Panganiban told All Asian Countertrade that they had been authorized to import 240,000 metric tons of sugar, pursuant to Bersamin’s instructions.
“Sinasabi dito that the ES, allegedly more than a month ago, provided some sort of authority to import that the SRA had not… Ano ang legal basis ng authority to import na ibinigay diumano ni ES Bersamin?” she said.
(It says that more than a month ago, the Executive Secretary provided some sort of authority to import, that the SRA has not… What legal basis of authority to import that ES Bersamin supposedly give?)
The opposition senator then concluded that the sugar delivery was smuggled.
“What other conclusion can be drawn other than that is government-sponsored smuggling? Who is responsible for this?” she asked.
Hontiveros also pointed out that the shipment is not covered by previous sugar orders as allocated sugar volumes under past orders should arrive in the Philippines before November 15 last year.
Moreover, the 260 containers of sugar, said Hontiveros, passed through the Bureau of Customs’ (BOC) Super Green Lane system, where a shipment gets the VIP treatment.
However, the senator noted that agricultural products are prohibited in the Super Green Lane system.
“So, malinaw na contraband at hindi dapat nalito ang BOC na smuggled nga itong asukal,” she said.
(So, it is clear that it is contraband, and the BOC should not have been confused that the sugar is smuggled.)
Hontiveros also questioned the volume computation of the proposed importation.
“Here, now, the DA (Department of Agriculture) can approve seemingly any amount allocation without any restriction. There appears to be no criteria, no ceiling, no formula with which to determine how allocation is given to each importer. It is then technically possible to just give allocations to three favored importers,” she said.
Further, Hontiveros asked if a sugar order can be retroactive and if it is a “really good policy to grant such broad powers to agencies to determine how much import allocations shall be given to eligible importers, sans any ceilings, formula, and criteria.”
The senator said that Filipinos are on the losing end of the issue.
“Hindi ba ang talo dito ay ang mamamayang Pilipino? Dahil ‘pag pinayagan natin ang asukal na pasukin ng mga cartel, pinapayagan natin na kontrolin nila ang presyo nito. At kung ‘di natin ito papalagan, ano pa ang ibang agricultural commodities na pwedeng pasukan ng kartel?” Hontiveros lamented.
(Aren’t the Filipino people on the losing end here? If we allow cartels in the sugar industry, we allow them to control their prices. If we will not oppose this, what other agricultural commodities will these cartels enter into.)