‘Let it be’: Agri exec plays down sugar smuggling claim
The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Thursday brushed aside the series of tirades made by Senator Risa Hontiveros on the so-called government-backed cartel cornering all imported sugar entering the Philippines.
“Pabayaan mo na ’yun (Let it be),” Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban said when asked about Hontiveros’ claims that the sugar imports that recently arrived in the country were smuggled.
The agriculture official confirmed that he cleared the release of the imported sugar, which he argued was a necessary move to lower the steep selling prices of refined sugar that still sells at about P100 a kilo.
“May clearance na, tapos na. Binigyan na ng clearance ng SRA (It has a clearance. It’s done. The clearance has been given by the Sugar Regulatory Administration),” Panganiban said.
“It will be released within the next two weeks. This is the sugar that will lower the price of commercial sugar in the Philippines. It will be P80 to P84 per kilo,” he added.
Markets in Metro Manila sell refined sugar from P87 to P110 a kilo, up from only P65 a year ago, based on the DA’s price monitoring of Metro Manila markets as of Thursday.
In a memorandum to SRA Administrator David John Thaddeus Alba, the DA authorized the SRA to clear the release of the imported sugar that arrived in the country to three international sugar traders, namely All Asian Countertrade Inc., Edison Lee Marketing Corp., and S&D Sucden Philippines Inc.
All Asian Countertrade was allotted 240,000 metric tons while Edison Lee Marketing and S&D Sucden Philippines were given 100,000 MT each.
“Included in the aforesaid imported sugar are the shipments consigned to All Asian Countertrade Inc. which have arrived in the country, the said shipments being part of the 240,000 MT, or 4,800,000.00 bags awarded to All Asian Countertrade Inc. in relation to the abovementioned Memorandum/Sugar Order No. 6,” read the February 27 memorandum signed by Panganiban.
In a separate document, the SRA issued a clearance covering 1,000 MT of sugar procured by All Asian Countertrade from Thailand-based KSL Export Trading Co. Ltd., still under SO 6, which is valid until March 29.
At an earlier Palace briefing, Panganiban maintained that there was “nothing irregular” with the new sugar importation order authorizing the entry of 440,000 MT this year and explained that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., through a memorandum issued by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, gave the green light.
Bersamin had directed the DA to implement the recommendations “to ensure adequate supply of sugar in domestic markets, reduce prices and manage inflation.”
Done in haste
“In response to the directive of the President to address inflation and create a buffer stock and given that sugar is one of the commodities that drives the consistently high inflation rate, I acted with haste and interpreted the memorandum issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary as an approval to proceed with the importation,” Panganiban explained.
In a statement on Wednesday, March 1, Hontiveros said the memorandum issued by Panganiban directing the SRA to issue clearances to a shipment of sugar from Thailand was the “smoking gun” evidence that a “government-backed” cartel had been allowed to bring in the agricultural commodity without the proper import permits.
The senator had earlier exposed that a shipment of 260 freight containers filled with refined sugar aboard three vessels arrived at the Port of Batangas on February 9, or six days before the SRA issued on February 15 SO 6 authorizing the importation of 440,000 metric tons of the commodity to address the tight local supply.