The Department of Agriculture is standing pat that President Marcos knew of the importation of 400,000 metric tons—which were earlier shipped into the Port of Batangas by three administration-favored trades/importers— based on a memo signed by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin. The SO authorizing the importation came a week after the actual shipment of sugar from Thailand was intercepted at the Port of Batangas.
With inflation on its continued flight, the Department of Agriculture panicked and allowed the entry of sugar volumes, not needed by the market, even to a point that the imports came in a week before the Sugar Order No. 6 for 400,000 metric tons of imported sugar was released.
This move made senators and bigwigs in the industry denounce the state-sanctioned sugar smuggling by three select traders close to the administration to the point of giving it a super green lane status at the Bureau of Customs, which meant absolutely no inspection, said Sen. Risa Hontiveros in a recent hearing.
The DA justified the import order—which became moot and academic as the shipment already arrived before the order was released—“to help address soaring inflation,” which is why DA “hastened” the importation process for sugar.
In a press conference in Malacañang, Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban said he authorized three “capable and accredited” firms to push through with their importation.
This, even if the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) has yet to issue an official Sugar Order (SO) for the said procedures.
Last Tuesday, Senator Risa Hontiveros revealed DA allowed All Asian Countertrade, Sucden Philippines Inc., and Edison Lee Marketing Corp. to import 450,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar, supposedly upon the instruction of President Marcos, Jr. through an Executive Order signed by Executive Secretary Lucas P Bersamin. The shipment of sweeteners from the said firms arrived on Feb. 9, 2023.
Hontiveros said the importation might be considered as “government-sponsored” smuggling since it did not go through the usual procedures.
Panganiban confirmed the details of the exposé of Hontiveros, saying the said firms were allowed to do so on the condition they “reduce the prices of sugar, sell the commodity, and shoulder the cost of warehousing.”
“In response to the directive of the President to address inflation and create a buffer stock and given that sugar is one of the components of most of commodities that drives the consistently high inflation rate, I acted with haste and interpreted the memorandum issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary as an approval to proceed with the importation,” Panganiban said.
“The directive was for them to bring it at a time that the sugar in the country is being harvested and that will be coming in February, March, and April,” he added.
He stressed the President, who is the chairman of the Sugar Regulatory Board (SRB), knew of the sugar importation
“Yes, he was aware. The sugar arrived on February 9. He was properly informed that the sugar has already arrived,” Panganiban said.
Last year, Marcos replaced the members of the SRA board, including Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian for the supposed illegal Sugar Order Nol.3 authorizing the importation of 350,000 metric tons of sugar. But towards October, the government imported in tranches the equivalent volume of sugar and Bersamin lately reinstalled career official Sebastian in DA this time in charge of the rice industry, an area he has handled for the longest time.
Tags: #Malacanang, #DA, #ESLucasBersamin, #state-sanctionedsmuggling