Leaders of the sugar industry in a joint statement on Wednesday, February 22, called on the House of Representatives and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to conduct full-blown investigations into the blatant “smuggling” of sugar into the country.
“We condemn in the strongest terms any and all acts of sugar smuggling, which constitute economic sabotage that wreak havoc on the livelihood of thousands of sugarcane farmers, 90 percent of whom are agrarian reform beneficiaries and marginal farmers who rely solely on sugar for their sustenance,” they said.
The statement was signed by Enrique D. Rojas – National Federation of Sugarcane Planters president, Aurelio Gerardo J. Valderrama Jr. – Confederation of Sugar Producers Association Inc. president, Pablo L. Lobregat – Philippine Sugar Millers Association president, and Danilo A. Abelita- Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers president.
The joint statement came a day after Sen. Risa Hontiveros also called on the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to investigate the entry of Thai sugar into the country through the Port of Batangas in what appears to be “government-sponsored smuggling.”
Negros Occidental Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson also said he supports the call for an investigation, if there is strong evidence.
He said excessive sugar entering the country would drive down millgate prices, and hurt the country’s sugar industry already reeling from the high prices of fertilizer and fuel.
“If the millgate prices go down considerably, the majority of our planters are small planters and they will be affected the most,” he said.
Lacson said lower millgate prices will reduce farmers’ fertilizer use that would lower sugar production, which has also lately been affected by the weather.
This could lead to lower sugar production next crop year, he said.
The leaders of the four sugar groups, in their joint statement, said for the past two weeks, different sources have reported the arrival at the Batangas Port of 260 20-foot containers containing an estimated 5,000 metric tons (MT) or 100,000 bags of refined sugar from Thailand.
This shipment worth around P400 million in the retail market, reportedly arrived on February 9, before the release on February 15 of Sugar Order No. 6, Series of 2022-2023 allowing the importation of 440,000 MT of sugar, they said.
That shipment has thus been publicly questioned as being unauthorized and therefore considered smuggled, they added.
In response, the Bureau of Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service has reportedly asked the District Collector of the Port of Batangas to justify the release of the sugar by submitting copies of import clearances issued to the importer by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), they said.
The sugar leaders said as affected stakeholders, they are deeply concerned and are calling for an open and transparent investigation that must be quickly undertaken to establish the facts.
If an order was issued to the Collector of the Port of Batangas to release the sugar, where is this order and who issued it? they asked.
If, on the other hand, the sugar in question is not supported by a legitimate import authorization and Release Order from the SRA, that sugar should be seized by Customs, pursuant to existing laws, they said.
The importer/s and official/s involved in the entry and subsequent release of this shipment should also be investigated, and if determined to be liable, should be made to answer to the full extent of the law, the sugar leaders said.
“We urge the House of Representatives and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to conduct a full-blown investigation into this and other blatant cases of sugar smuggling. The public deserves to know who are responsible, and what concrete actions will be taken by the concerned government agencies to stop this nefarious practice,” they said.
The sugar leaders said it is their position that the sugar import program must not only be carefully calibrated in terms of volume and timing, so as not to severely affect millgate prices, it should also be open to all qualified traders and producers’ groups through a process that is transparent, fair and equitable.
They also called call on all sugar producers’ federations, unaffiliated associations and cooperatives, millers, labor groups and all affected stakeholders to join them in fighting for the survival of the sugar industry by exposing and opposing any blatant attempt at sugar smuggling.
United Sugar Producers Federation (UNIFED) president Manuel Lamata, in a separate statement, said if there is smuggled sugar and those responsible are caught the perpetrators should be brought to court.*