The exposé of Senator Risa Hontiveros that a shipment of sugar from Thailand entered the country without a permit, well before the Sugar Regulatory Administration approved Sugar Order No. 6, which allowed the importation of 440,000 metric tons, no earlier than March 1, implicates ranking officials for involvement in what she called “government-sponsored smuggling.”
Hontiveros surmised that the imported sugar was connected with a draft and undated memorandum supposedly issued by Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban, informing the SRA to “allocate” the importation to three companies, allegedly “upon the instructions” of the President “thru” Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.
At a media briefing in Malacañang last week, Panganiban insisted that there were no irregularities in the importation, pointing out that he considered the memorandum issued by Bersamin dated Jan. 13 as a “sugar order” to proceed with the importation. “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 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,” he explained. He added that the president was aware and “properly informed” when the imported sugar arrived on February 9.
The issue is that the imported sugar arrived before SO6 was issued on February 15, and way before the initial batch is supposed to arrive, which according to the order, should be no earlier than March 1. The explanation offered for the early shipment which was arbitrarily awarded to three companies, raises more questions than answers.
How can a memo from the executive secretary, who does not have the authority of the SRA board, be considered as a sugar order? Isn’t the early arrival of the sugar a violation of the sugar order? How did the three companies picked by Panganiban to import the entire 440,000 MT under SO 6 win the deal?
Most importantly, as Hontiveros pointed out, the shipment that arrived before the effectivity date of the actual sugar order and before the notice of award allocation, is technically smuggling, making seizure and the filing of criminal charges necessary.
With so many questions remaining unanswered, are the officials who promised to protect the sugar industry, especially here in Negros, doing anything? Are we simply going accept these explanations at face value, or is someone going to get to the bottom of this strange situation that doesn’t seem beneficial for the industry and its stakeholders?*