‘Memo cleared sugar held at Batangas port’

March 3, 2023
The Philippine Star| https://bit.ly/3mvOXm0

MANILA, Philippines — More than 400,000 metric tons of sugar being held at the Port of Batangas for almost a month have been cleared for release following a memorandum from Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban.

The memo asks Sugar Regulatory Administration administrator David John Alba to certify the legality of the shipment, which was the subject of a Senate investigation over allegations of smuggling.

This was according to SRA board member and planters’ representative Pablo Luis Azcona who confirmed yesterday the issuance of necessary documentation for the release of the sugar shipment totaling 440,000 MT.

“For the imported sugar, what I know is that clearances have been issued,” Azcona told The STAR.

Panganiban’s memorandum to Alba was dated Feb. 27, 2023.

“Considering that allocations under Sugar Order No. 5, Series of 2022-023 had been duly awarded, and considering further the memorandum from the Office of the Executive Secretary dated Jan. 13, 2023, you may now issue the clearances for the release of imported sugar to the three international sugar traders that participated namely All Asian Countertrade Inc., 240,000 metric tons, Edison Lee Marketing, 100,000 MT, and S&D SUCDEN Philippines Inc., 100,000 MT,” Panganiban said in his memorandum.

“For the farmers I asked Undersecretary Panganiban to integrate the imports into our Sugar Order. This way, all the sugar will be properly regulated and classified accordingly, based on supply and demand,” Azcona said.

He added Panganiban is supportive of the SRA position that all sugar imports should be handled by the agency.

“The undersecretary (Panganiban) gladly agreed to one import program which is Sugar Order 6 and all the sugar will be under the SRA,” he added.

Azcona added that guidelines provided under the SO would be followed.

He also said the release of the imported sugar would help bring down the retail price of the commodity in the local market.

“Hopefully we will get the P85 per kilo retail for refined, while the farmers will get P60 per kilo for their raw,” Azcona added.

Azcona added that the farmgate price of raw sugar has gone down from P70 per kilo to P60 per kilo.

“The refined sugar is P76 per kilo level at the Negros farmgate or millgate,” Azcona added.

Earlier, Sen. Risa Hontiveros questioned the arrival of 260 shipping containers of sugar in the country ahead of the issuance of Sugar Order No. 6.

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 on Feb. 9.

The senator said the investigation should cover possible provisions of SO 6 that may be open to abuse, patronage and cartelization.

The SRA issued SO 6 on Feb. 15 for the importation of 440,000 MT of sugar.

The order states that the SRA should begin accepting applications for five calendar days from the date of effectivity of SO 6 on Feb. 18.

The SRA should only award allocations for five calendar days after the last day of receiving applications.

Panganiban said in the undated memorandum that he was acting “upon the instructions” of President Marcos through Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.

In a statement, three sugar planters’ federations said the shipment constitutes “large-scale agricultural smuggling” or even economic sabotage under Section 3(a) of Republic Act 10845 or the “Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.”

“SRA should provide for a rational and calibrated sugar import program and ensure the observance of a transparent, fair and equitable process of granting import allocations, as earlier proposed,” the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations, National Federation of Sugarcane Planters and Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers said in a joint statement. - DM