Spike in sugar smuggling raises alarm
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Sugar industry leaders have noticed a spike in the amount of sugar being smuggled into the country as the elections approach, expressing suspicion that the two are linked, as they counted as much as P287 million in smuggled sugar that entered the country so far this year.
Manuel Lamata, chair of the Sugar Anti-Smuggling Organization (Saso) of the Sugar Alliance of the Philippines (SAP), made the statement during an inspection of at least 11,935 bags of smuggled sugar seized by authorities at the city port here.
Lamata was with other SAP and customs officials during the inspection of the smuggled sugar, loaded onto MV Narhuda, worth at least P30 million.
The smuggled sugar from Thailand was shipped to the Philippines through Malaysia. Bags with markings of a Negros Occidental-based sugar mill, which are believed to be fake, were also found in the ship that carried the smuggled sugar.
These meant that those behind the smuggling wanted to pass off the smuggled sugar as locally produced, according to Edgardo Lumanog Jr., Saso deputy chief.
The smuggled sugar that arrived in the port of Zamboanga on March 3 was seized by Task Force Zamboanga composed of the Army, Navy and Marines, Lumanog said, and the vessel, whose owner is based in Jolo, was impounded.
The contraband would be auctioned off by the customs bureau, said Benhur Araban, acting district collector of the Port of Zamboanga.
Some of the sugar seized were in bags intended for the Thai market, Araban said.
Lamata said sugar industry officials have asked the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to inspect the sugar cargo for possible drugs hidden in the shipment.
He expressed disappointment, however, at reports that 50 bags from the shipment were released to unidentified persons.
Lamata said the seized sugar cargo could not be searched for drugs immediately since it would be difficult for K-9 dogs to sniff through the shipment for drugs because sugar has alcohol content.
He said, this year alone, at least P287 million in smuggled sugar have been seized and noted that the port of entry for the contraband has shifted from Manila to ports in Mindanao.
Records kept by Saso, said Lamata, showed that the amount of sugar being smuggled into the country is increasing. From 2010-2015, at least P812 million in smuggled sugar were seized.
The rewards of smuggling now are greater than the risk, he said.
According to Lamata, sugar industry monitors became suspicious after Bukidnon Sugar Corp. complained against the slow release of sugar supply but abundance of sugar in the local markets.
This indicated that there are sources of sugar other than the traditional ones that have been supplying local markets.
Smugglers using the Zamboanga port, he said, are apparently supplying the needs of Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Davao.
The smuggled sugar is repacked in sacks bearing the markings of sugar mills in the Philippines.
Lamata said there are also attempts to smuggle sugar into the country, through Cagayan de Oro City, by a prominent politician in the Visayas. He refused to identify who the politician is.
Lamata said this raises suspicions that elections and smuggling are connected.
Smuggling is being used by politicians to raise funds for their campaign, he said.
Smugglers, Lamata said, are destroying the Philippine sugar industry and giving jobs to Thais out of greed.
“Worse, they are bringing in drugs inside sugar (shipments) because in our findings, dogs trained to sniff out drugs can no longer detect (smuggled drugs) because both (sugar and drugs) use chemicals that have alcohol content,” Lamata said.
Smuggling, said Lamata, will drive down prices of local sugar if it is not stopped and will deprive 1.2 million people dependent on the sugar industry of their source of income.
Negros island produces 60 percent of the country’s sugar, Lamata said.
He said his group would ask President Aquino and the customs bureau to seize ships carrying smuggled items and convert these into fish sanctuaries with pictures of smugglers attached to the ships.
Also with the group that inspected the smuggled sugar yesterday were the Saso chief, retired Gen. Joel Goltiao, and Deputy Customs Commissioner Jessie Dellosa.
Saso is a privately funded group tasked with helping the sugar industry curb smuggling, Lamata said.
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