Court issues 20-day TRO stopping sugar importation

UNIFED directors Gary Acuña, Joseph Edgar Sarrosa, Paul Azcona and Andre Corro (l-r) at a press conference announcing the issuance of a TRO on the importation of 200,000 MT of sugar.*CPG photo

A temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the importation of 200,000 MT of sugar into the country was served at the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) main office in Quezon City on Tuesday, February 15, United Sugar Producers Federation (UNIFED) officials announced.

Executive Judge Reginald Fuentebella of the Sagay City Regional Trial Court Branch 73, who issued the TRO on SRA Sugar Order No. 3, said it will be effective for 20 days and the hearing of a writ of preliminary injunction will be held on February 24 through video conference.

The judge was acting on a civil case for injunction with prayer for issuance of a TRO filed by the Rural Sugar Planter’s Association Inc. represented by its president Joseph Edgar “GJ” Sarrosa against the SRA represented by Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica.

The RSPAI is a member association of UNIFED.

“If things go well for us it (the TRO) will become permanent and we will proceed with the main case of having Sugar Order No. 3 voided”, UNIFED director Gary Acuña said.

“We hope for the best but we prepare for the worst,” Sarrosa said.

Other sugar groups are also planning to file similar petitions against SRA for TROs, Sarrosa said.

Sarrosa, who is also a UNIFED director, said that SRA Sugar Order No. 3 that allows the importation of 200,000 MT of sugar starting March will bring “grave injustice, untold irreparable injury, loses and damages to the sugar industry.”

There is no basis for Sugar Order No. 3 since Serafica himself has stated that”there is no reason for prices to increase since supply is stable despite the effects of Typhoon Odette”, Sarrosa said.

Sarrosa said the mere announcement that sugar importation will be allowed has already driven down millgate sugar prices by as much as P250 per 50 Lkg to the detriment especially of marginal farmers already reeling from skyrocketing fertilizer and fuel prices.

“More than 90 percent of the sugar farmers are agrarian reform beneficiaries, gone are the days of the hacienderos,” he said.

Serafica, when asked for his reaction, said on the advice of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel on the pending case for issuance of an injunction, the SRA will l hold in abeyance any official statement or act pertaining to importation and will yield to the court’s order, in accordance with the sub judice rule.

“This is without prejudice to any legal action which the SRA may thereafter undertake. Stakeholders are continually assured that the SRA is complying with its mandate under existing laws, rules and regulations. Its end in view is toward addressing the needs of the sugarcane industry for all concerned sectors under its authority and jurisdiction,” Serafica said.

Sarrosa said they are not against sugar importation. “What we are against is an ill-timed, ill-planned importation, it should be calibrated, scheduled and fair to all,” he said, adding that it should not be implemented during the harvest season.

They are still hoping that an amicable agreement can be reached, he said.

“We are in an agricultural crisis and what is happening in the sugar industry now falls on the shoulders of Serafica. I appeal once more to President Rodrigo Duterte to fire him as he has no decency to resign despite everything,” UNIFED president Manuel Lamata said in a statement read for him by federation director Paul Azcona.

Serafica claimed that the importation order was to ensure that the local market prices of sugar are stabilized as there are complaints from the consumers, particularly local vendors, that sugar prices are high, Lamata said.

However, Sugar Order No. 3 does not directly answer the so called complaints of these vendors as half of the imported supply will go to bottling companies, he added.

“That alone sends an alarm that something fishy is going on,” he said.
Lamata also said Serafica has not acted on the calls to come up with measures against the high prices of farm inputs.

“He has shown that he is not competent enough to manage the sugar industry.” Lamata added.*

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