The Senate and House of Representatives are set to conduct inquiries into the “illegal” issuance of Sugar Order No. 4 (SO4) granting the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar, which was revoked by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. last week.
“We were not born yesterday. We know importation is a lucrative business,” Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said in a privilege speech Monday, August 15, calling for an investigation into the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Board’s issuance of SO 4.
Zubiri also said there is “tong-pats” or a corruption scheme involving sugar importation that was divulged to him by industry insiders.
He was informed that “tongpats” or bribes worth P50 to P100 per bag of imported sugar are sought, Zubiri said.
“Let me put it in proper context. Three hundred metric tons of sugar is six million bags. At P50 that is P300 million. At P100, that is an income of P600 million”, he said.
“The unauthorized release of Sugar Order No. 4 is absolutely reprehensible and must be investigated,” said Zubiri in his speech.
Zubiri, who called for a Blue Ribbon investigation into the matter, said “At the very least, there’s usurpation of authority. At the very least, there’s a violation of the Anti- graft and Corrupt Practices Act.”
He also questioned the need to import another 300,000 metric tons of sugar, when internal documents from the SRA show that there are still about 127,000 metric tons of imported sugar languishing in warehouses.
Sugar Order No. 3 released in February set an import quota for 200,000 metric tons of sugar, exclusively for industrial users., which was released right in the middle of harvest season, Zubiri said.
The order was brought to court by various stakeholders in the sugar industry, and the Regional Trial Courts of Sagay City and Himamaylan City sided with the stakeholders. Both these courts issued temporary restraining orders and writs of preliminary injunction against the order, he said.
Sugar importation, however, continued.
“They waited for an opinion from another government agency that said that the TRO was only for Negros Occidental,” Zubiri said.
“But there are many intelligent lawyers here that know that when a court releases a TRO, that should be for the whole country. Because the question of the court was to explain the importation for the whole country”, he added.
Despite continued importation under Sugar Order No. 3, Zubiri revealed that only 45,680 metric tons of sugar have been withdrawn, out of the 200,000 metric tons set by the order.
Citing internal documents from the SRA, Zubiri said that 172,016 metric tons of sugar have entered the country under Sugar Order No. 3. Twenty-seven thousand metric tons are still on the way in. That leaves a balance of 126,336 metric tons still in local warehouses.
Zubiri stressed that that about six million Filipinos—from sugar farmers to laborers to dependents—are reliant on the industry.
“Let us find ways to build a better, more responsive, and more inclusive SRA— not just for the sugar sector but for every Filipino who uses sugar every day,” he said.
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability and Committee on Agriculture and Food will conduct a joint motu proprio inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the unauthorized release of SO4, Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano (Abang Lingkod partylist) said.
Both committees convened Monday for a briefing on the sugar importation mess and House Minority Leader Marcelino Libanan filed a motion to convert the briefing into a full-blown congressional probe to determine culpability on those involved in the issuance of SO4.
Paduano, Committee on Agriculture and Food member, said the two House committees will begin their investigation on Thursday.
The members of both panels could not ask pressing questions regarding the issue because they were just conducting a briefing on Monday instead of an inquiry, he said.
Paduano said he, Rep. Juliet Marie Ferrer (Neg. Occ., 4th District) and Rep. Emilio Yulo III (Neg. Occ., 5th District) were physically present at the House briefing and they were joined via Zoom by Rep. Francisco Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District) and Rep. Alfredo Marañon III (Neg. Occ., 2nd District).
The National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines (NACUSIP) through its national president Roland de la Cruz expressed alarm over the recent issuance of SO4 in a statement released Monday.
A thorough investigation should be conducted in order to prevent this kind of fiasco that undermines the integrity of the agency, de la Cruz said.
“We extend our solidarity thanks to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for being the ‘White Knight’ by saving the sugar industry against the possible importation of 300,000 metric tons of imported sugar amidst the start of the milling season,” he said.
Sugar importation especially at the start of the milling season will have a serious and debilitating effect on local producers, especially small farm cultivators such as agrarian reform beneficiaries, small planters and sugar field workers, de la Cruz said.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) called for the dismantling of the sugar mafia, and for aid to sugar farm workers.
“The government’s importation policy remains as the biggest fiasco within the Sugar Regulatory Administration and the Department of Agriculture. Importation have been synonymous to corruption,” it said.*