Without tacitly admitting it, the Department of Agriculture, through Senior Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban, virtually confirmed that it’s hands are tied when it comes to a sugar cartel being coddled by Malacanang (up President Marcos) who allowed importations even without the Memorandum Order, which is why the shipment arrived before the actual release of Sugar Order 6.
The fact that DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban issued a memorandum addressed to the Sugar Regulatory Administration to issue clearances to a shipment of sugar from Thailand was to Sen. Risa Hontiveros a “smoking gun” or incontrovertible proof that a “government backed” cartel has been allowed to bring in the commodity without the proper import permits.
Hontiveros had earlier exposed that a shipment of 260 freight containers filled with refined sugar aboard three vessels arrived at the Port of Batangas on Feb. 9, or six days before the SRA issued on Feb. 15 Sugar Order No. 6 authorizing the importation of 440,000 metric tons of the commodity to address the tight local supply.
“That’s the smoking gun,” Hontiveros told the Inquirer, referring to Panganiban’s letter to SRA Administrator David John Thaddeus Alba.
“By their own admission, in black and white, they were aware that shipments of sugar arrived in the country way before … the earliest date the validly imported supply … could reach our ports,” she pointed out.
Under the law, Hontiveros said any shipment of imported sugar under SO 6 should arrive in the country not earlier than March 1.
“Not only were they aware of those dubious shipments, but they also even wanted to clear them for release despite those shipments being obviously smuggled,” she added. Reports said the shipment was categorized as super green lane, meaning no inspections and clearances.
The newspaper tried to get Panganiban’s side, but a staff member from his office said queries should be addressed to Assistant Agriculture Secretary Rex Estoperez, but the assistant secretary and spokesperson Kristine Evangelista did not entertain the calls.
In his memorandum, Panganiban confirmed Hontiveros’ information that 440,000 MT of sugar to be imported by the Philippines had already been allocated to three traders — All Asian Countertrade Inc. (240,000 MT), Edison Lee Marketing Corp. (100,000 MT) and S&D Sucden Philippines Inc. (100,000 MT).
“As the saying goes, you catch a fish by its mouth. That is true even (in the) smuggling of sugar,” Hontiveros said. “It is outrageous to see the government seemingly facilitating and brokering the formation of a cartel and smuggling ring seeking to control our nation’s sugar supply.”
Blue ribbon probe
Hontiveros said the Senate blue ribbon committee, headed by Sen. Francis Tolentino, should immediately conduct an inquiry into what she described as “sugar importation fiasco 2.0.”
Tolentino’s panel previously led the chamber’s investigation into the failed attempt to import 300,000 MT of sugar without President Marcos’ approval in November last year. As concurrent agriculture secretary, the President sits as SRA board chair.
“The entire country is waiting for the Senate, through the Senate blue ribbon committee, to fulfill its obligation. We should not allow the DA to be an organizer of cartels,” Hontiveros said.
“We should not allow our agricultural processes to be defined by kickbacks, shady contracts, and corruption. If we do not act soon, prices of basic goods will remain high and, in the end, consumers and their families will suffer the consequences,” she warned.
Hontiveros said Panganiban could not use a separate memorandum that Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin issued on Jan. 13 and SO 6 as legal cover to justify the release of the sugar shipment, pointing out that the law required all imported commodities to secure permits and clearances from appropriate state agencies.
In that separate document, Panganiban said Bersamin had allowed the three trading companies to import sugar.
SRA is another rubberstamp
“We should not ignore this ‘smoking gun’ proof of government-sponsored sugar smuggling being coordinated at the highest levels of bureaucracy,” Hontiveros said.
“Since they had no proper permits, those shipments should be considered as the subject of large-scale agricultural smuggling,” she insisted.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, a lawyer, agreed with Hontiveros that the shipment should be considered “smuggled goods until proven to be legitimate.”
He noted the authorization for the sugar importation was “highly irregular” and only made the SRA “looks like it has no more use or role.”
“They have diminished the importance of the SRA (to some kind of rubber stamp),” Pimentel said.
The Senate minority leader also warned the public officials and other individuals responsible for the entry of the imported agricultural commodity.
“All involved should better be very careful as this is a highly irregular shipment or importation. All involved should follow their established protocols and procedures,” Pimentel said.
Tags: #PresidentMarcos, #sugarcartel, #state-sponsoredsmuggling