September 14, 2022
Philippine Daily Inquirer | https://bit.ly/3xrvTbf
MANILA, Philippines — The country is allotting its entire sugar production for the current crop year for local consumption to help alleviate the tight supply and stabilize prices in the market.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who as concurrent agriculture secretary chairs the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) board, signed Sugar Order (SO) No. 1 classifying all sugar produced in the country for the crop year 2022-2023 as “B” sugar, or for the domestic sugar market.
The order dated Aug. 26 was posted on the SRA website on Tuesday.
Other signatories were Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban, SRA Acting Administrator David John Thaddeus Alba and SRA acting board members Ma. Mitzi Mangwag (as millers’ representative) and Pablo Luis Azcona (planters’ representative).
This means no locally produced sugar for the current crop year, which began on Sept. 1 and ends on Aug. 31, 2023, has been set aside for export to the United States.
“For now, [the] priority is [meeting our] domestic need,” Alba said in a message to the Inquirer.
The SRA under the previous management did the same for all sugar produced during crop year 2021-2022, also to manage the country’s limited buffer.
Sugar produced domestically is classified as follows: “A” for US quota, “B” for the domestic market, “C” for reserve, and “D” for the world market.
Tight supply and declining production have pushed sugar prices higher this year. As of Tuesday, the Department of Agriculture’s price monitoring showed that refined sugar in Metro Manila markets retailed for P95 a kilo, or nearly double from only P50 a year ago, while brown sugar was being sold for P70 a kilo, also up from P42.
For the crop year 2022-2023, the SRA estimated the total raw sugar production at 1.88 million metric tons (MT). On the other hand, sugar demand for the past three crop years has been around 2.03 million MT.
“As one of the (SRA) board’s actions to address the tightness of our sugar supply, [it] has already passed an importation program which will serve both industrial users and consumers,” Alba said.
The planned importation, he explained, was “just a stop-gap measure” since all refineries would go into full operation by October or November, at the latest.
“Some sugar mills have already started milling and we will soon have a steady supply of sugar,” he added.
The runaway prices of the commodity eventually led to the sugar importation fiasco. That controversy arose when the previous SRA board issued SO 4 allowing the importation of 300,000 MT of sugar. Malacañang immediately rejected the order since the president did not authorize it.
After the investigations launched in Congress, the Senate blue ribbon committee recommended to the Ombudsman the filing of criminal and administrative charges against former Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, former SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, and resigned board members Roland Beltran and Aurelio Valderrama Jr. for alleged corrupt practices, violation of the anti-agricultural smuggling law and usurpation of authority.
While the committee cleared Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez, the minority senators said the Palace official was not “totally blameless” as he could be made liable for the lapses he committed that had whipped up the fiasco.
In their 17-page report, Senators Aquilino Pimentel III and Risa Hontiveros also disputed the committee’s recommendation to file graft and administrative charges against the four agriculture officials involved.
They issued their report a day after committee chair Sen. Francis Tolentino submitted to the plenary for ratification the panel’s findings.
The minority senators said the four officials acted in good faith in issuing SO 4.
“Contrary to the insinuations made, and as aptly explained in the hearings, the 300,000 (MT) figure mentioned in SO 4 did not come from thin air but is based on facts, historical data, and a result of consultation with stakeholders,” the report read.
It zeroed in on the “miscommunication” between Rodriguez and Sebastian, who was supposedly following up with the former the status of SO 4.
The report noted how Rodriguez himself admitted in his testimony that he purposely did not reply to Sebastian’s text messages because the President, too, had not given any reply on this.
It pointed out that Rodriguez, as Executive Secretary, had a direct link and stood as the gatekeeper to the President.
“There would not have been any miscommunication had the executive secretary simply replied that the SRA Board should give the President more time to study the draft (SO 4) and to hold in abeyance the planned referendum pending advice or instruction from the Office of the President,” it said.