Marcos wants to import via ‘selected’ sugar traders – Panganiban
Updated @ 11:23, May 23, 2023
MANILA, Philippines — Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban appeared confused on Tuesday when he recounted President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s sugar importation directive before the Senate.
According to Panganiban, who is among the government officials at the center of the Senate blue ribbon committee investigation on the allegedly illegal importation of sugar early this year, Marcos pushed for immediate importation of sugar due to high inflation and market costs.
Speaking under oath, Panganiban recounted that the president met with him and officials of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), and said, “Let’s do it ourselves first.”
Two days later, he recalled, Marcos met with him again, this time with several sugar importers, to tell them about the need to import sugar.
“So, after an hour of deliberations, the president said, ‘Let’s import.’ Tell the public that we should be importing,” Panganiban said.
However, Senator Risa Hontiveros noted that Panganiban initially said Marcos’ words were to “do it ourselves.”
Panganiban quickly denied saying this. He said the President told him, “Let’s import through selected importers of sugar.”
“The President did not say, ‘Let’s do it ourselves.’ The President said, ‘Let’s import,’” he said partly in Filipino.
Hontiveros underscored the importance of clarifying what Marcos did or did not say.
Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel further prodded Panganiban, citing that his notes also show Panganiban’s initial recall of Marcos’ words.
“Did this or did this not happen? Because what you said immediately changed after,” Pimentel said.
Panganiban affirmed that he had indeed worded Marcos’ words that way.
“The president directed to limit the allocations to a few importers who are willing to shoulder warehousing, transportation, and other related costs to sell it to a reasonable price to manage inflation…The President did not say to do it ourselves. I said we should do it ourselves. What the President said is, ‘Let’s import,’” he said.
Hontiveros asked if Marcos said those words before or after he and Panganiban met representatives of the three handpicked sugar traders – All Asian Countertrade, Sucden Philippines Inc., and Edison Lee Marketing Corporation – who were allocated portions of the 440,000 metric tons of sugar imports.
“It’s after the fact,” Panganiban, Agriculture Secretary during the administration of former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said.
He also noted that the president only called to meet four or five sugar importers, including Michael Escaler of All Asian Countertrade and Christian Emmanuel Alvarado of Sucden Philippines.
Hontiveros had previously alleged that government favoritism was at play in the selection of the traders for this batch of sugar imports.
Panganiban said the three chosen sugar importers were “capable and accredited.”
But during the hearing, Hontiveros tested Panganiban’s testimony by raising questions about the qualifications of Sucden Philippines and All Asian Countertrade.
She referred to an audit report of Reyes Tacandong & Co., which showed that Sucden Philippines had a capital deficiency of $394,103 and $35,784 on Dec. 31, 2021, and in 2020, respectively, “resulting from continuing losses.”
“This condition raises doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” the report said.
Sucden Philippines president Christian Emmanuel Alvarado said the report by his firm’s third-party auditor was accurate. But, he said, a peek into the company’s 2022 audit report will show a “positive” capital.
Meanwhile, All Asian Countertrade chairman Michael Escaler dispelled claims of sugar smuggling, noting that they had paid P800 million in taxes for the imported sweetener.
The Escaler-led company was allotted the biggest chunk of the imported sugar with 240,000 metric tons.
“Because we have paid P800 million in taxes, we cannot call that smuggling. Because we paid taxes. We only call smugglers those who do not pay taxes,” Escaler siad.