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Congress to probe sugar importation mess

BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri wants the Senate Blue Ribbon committee to probe the SRA for the 300,000 MT sugar importation*

Members of the House of Representatives want a full-blown investigation into the unauthorized sugar importation of 300,000 metric tons by the Sugar Regulatory Administration.

A joint motu propio inquiry of the House Committees on Good Government and Public Accountability, in aid of legislation, was approved yesterday by lawmakers, to determine culpability on the controversial issuance of the resolution without the approval of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Abang Lingkod party-list Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano yesterday said that members of the panels could not ask pressing questions to the resource persons regarding the issue because they are just conducting a briefing instead of an inquiry.

“Personally, I cannot ask questions… those questions relative to SO No. 3 and SO No. 4 deeply because this is just a briefing, and again, we expect an investigation on these issues,” Paduano said during the joint briefing at the House of Representatives.

In a motu proprio inquiry, resource persons would be held under oath and their statements could be held against them.

Negros Occidental 4th district Rep. Juliet Marie Ferrer also supported Paduano’s stand, saying that “an inquiry would put resource persons including those from SRA to be under oath, which allows statements they give during hearings to be used against them.”

Malacañang announced earlier that Marcos junked the proposal to import 300,000 MT of sugar.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, in his privilege speech at the Senate, urged the Senate blue ribbon committee to investigate the sugar import mess, as he reiterated his call for SRA officials involved in the issuance of the “illegal sugar order” to resign.

Roland Beltran has resigned as a board member of SRA, in connection with the controversial issuance of Sugar Order Number 4.

In a letter to Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez dated August 14, Beltran, the millers’ representative to the Sugar Board, cited health reasons for his resignation.

“This is without prejudice to any investigation that may be conducted in connection with the issuance of Sugar Order No. 4s. 2022-2223,” Beltran stated in his resignation letter.

Beltran, who was among SO4 signatories, clarified that he already left the SRA as early as July 1, upon expiration of his tour of duty and the issuance of Memorandum Circular No. 1, s. 2022.

But Beltran said he received an email from SRA Management on July 29, informing him that he is on a “holdover capacity”.

While he ignored the email, he said the same email was reiterated and resent on August 1, prompting him to reluctantly resume his duties and responsibilities as such, under pain of being accused of dereliction of duty.

During the briefing at the lower House, former Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian cited the “rapidly diminishing supply” of sugar as reason for signing the controversial SO4, without the authorization of the President.

Citing data from the SRA, Philippine Statistics Authority, and the National Economic and Development Authority, Sebastian said the average annual supply shortage of sugar is about 530,000 metric tons, comprised of an average annual deficit of 203,000 metric tons for raw sugar and 332,000 metric tons for refined sugar.

Sebastian took responsibility for the unauthorized issuance of the sugar importation order, saying that it was signed on the basis of data presented by the Department of Agriculture and SRA.

“I cannot stand watching Filipinos suffer from high local prices of sugar that are hurting Filipino consumers,” Sebastian said during the hearing. “I immediately resigned when I knew the president disapproved my action. It has been clear that my actions were not in keeping with the administration’s desired direction for the sugar industry.”

Citing his sources, Zubiri claimed that kickback from sugar importations may reach up to P600 million, with bribes worth P50 to P100 per bag, being asked from authorities.

“Let me put it in proper context, 300,000 metric tons of sugar is six million bags. At P50, that is P300 million. At P100, that is an income of P600 million possible tongpats na matatanggap (bribes to be received),” he said, noting that importation is a lucrative business.

Zubiri revealed that there are 127,000 tons of imported sugar are still in bodega.  “Why does the SRA have to import,” he asked, stressing that SRA wants to import 300,000 MT more.

This recent fiasco has put a spotlight not only on the SRA’s blatant disregard for the local sugar industry, but also on its bald-faced attempts to usurp authority, Zubiri stressed.

The National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines (NACUSIP) yesterday called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to quickly resolve the current issues affecting the Sugar Regulatory Administration leadership.

In a joint statement, NACUSIP; Philippine Agricultural ,Commercial, Industrial Workers Union (PACIWU);  Congress of Independent Organization (CIO); Fraternal Labor Organizations (FLO) and its affiliates, Trade Union of the Philippines International Trade Union Confederation, Union Network International and National Trade Union Center Philippines; expressed alarm over the recent issuance of Sugar Order Number 4 that mandated the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar, which was declared by Malacañang as “Illegal”.

NACUSIP president Roland dela Cruz thanked President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for being the “white knight” by saving the sugar industry against the possible importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar, amidst the start of the sugar milling season.

Sugar importation, especially at the start of milling season will have serious and debilitating effect on local producers, especially small farm cultivators, such as agrarian reform beneficiaries, small planters and sugar field workers, dela Cruz said.* with report from PNA

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