Legality of sugar imports could be settled in court

March 5, 2023
The Philippine Star|

MANILA, Philippines — The Legality of sugar imports could be settled in court The legality of sugar imports should be settled in court, former agriculture secretary and Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) board chairman Leonardo Montemayor said yesterday, as he encouraged sugar farmers to file a case after the 260 containers held at the Port of Batangas for almost a month have been cleared for release following a memorandum from Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban.

In an interview with The STAR, Montemayor noted that Panganiban could also be held liable after he allowed the entry of the shipments even before the issuance of Sugar Order (SO) No. 6 authorizing the importation of 440,000 metric tons (MT) of sweeteners.

“An in-depth investigation should be conducted to determine what really happened and to settle the legality. It might set a precedent, that’s why it should be carefully studied and investigated,” he said.

In an earlier interview with The STAR, Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) board member and planters’ representative Pablo Luis Azcona confirmed the issuance of necessary documentation for the release of the sugar shipment totaling 440,000 MT following a memo from Panganiban to SRA administrator David John Alba asking him to certify the legality of the sugar imports, which was the subject of a Senate investigation over allegations of smuggling.

“I suppose those who feel aggravated can always question that in court. There is nothing that can prevent anybody from filing a case to clarify whether that importation was legal and aboveboard,” Montemayor said.

He added that a parallel investigation of the Senate can be done even if a case is already filed in court.

“The Senate can always come out with its own findings and can propose bills or recommendations, particularly on the role of the SRA vis-à-vis the role of the DA (Department of Agriculture),” the former DA chief said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed Senate Resolution 487 directing the Senate committee on public accountability and investigation to conduct an inquiry into possible irregularities in the arrival of the sugar shipment at the Port of Batangas last Feb. 9.

Panganiban defended his decision to award the 440,000 MT sugar imports to three companies, saying he was acting “upon the instructions” of President Marcos through Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.

At the same time, Montemayor likened the importation of 440,000 MT of sugar to the botched SO No. 4 issued by Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian and former SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica allowing the importation of 300,000 MT of sugar. – DM