Artificial city

“Artificial” sugar shortage – Malacañang

Customs officers in Meycauayan, Bulacan, recently seized 130 million pesos worth of sugar from Thailand. Local farmers and sugar growers have been outraged by the discovery of imported sugar as it will compete with the prices of local sugar products in the country. (Photo by MARIANNE BERMUDEZ/Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang said on Sunday that the discovery of thousands of tons of sugar stored in warehouses in Luzon led officials to conclude that the shortage of sugar reported by beverage, food and bread makers was not than artificial.

“The huge volume of sugar found by authorities in the various warehouses inspected in Luzon has led Malacañang to conclude that the sugar shortage is artificial,” press secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a statement.

The Bureau of Customs (BOC), acting on orders from Malacañang, inspected sugar warehouses in Caloocan City, Manila, Pangasinan, Pampanga, Batangas and Davao and they found at least 214,000 bags of sugar (about 10,700 metric tons ) in some of the warehouses in Luzon alone.

The largest stockpile was found at Subic Freeport, where the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) seized 140,000 bags (7,000 MT) of refined sugar imported from Thailand.

The CIIS also found that most of the stored sugar it found had been imported under import permits under Sugar Ordinance No. 3 (SO3), issued by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) in February.

The CIIS said it was still studying the documentation, but it appears some of the import permits were “recycled” from previous imports under OS3.

On Saturday, the CIIS also seized at least 60,000 bags of refined sugar from Thailand at four warehouses in Guiguinto, Bulacan.

At least two of the warehouses were half full while one warehouse had sacks of sugar neatly stacked up to the roof.

The warehouse guard told customs inspectors that the sugar had just been delivered from the Manila International Container Terminal on Friday evening.

Sugar Order #3

BOC inspectors also learned that the import permit used for the shipment was also under SO3.

SO3, signed by then Agriculture Secretary William Dar, SRA Administrator Hermenigildo Serafica and SRA Board Member Ronald Beltran, authorized the import of 200,000 tonnes sugar.

Half of this allocation, or 100,000 metric tons, was for refined sugar for retail sale and the other half for bottling grade sugar for beverage manufacturers.

But Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez revealed last week that the SRA has still not accounted for 63,000 MT of imported SO3 sugar.

Impact on other sectors

Days before the warehouse inspections, food processors and beverage manufacturers were invited to Malacañang where they complained to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. about the unavailability of sugar in the market.

Marcos then ordered warehouse inspections and said he would consider allowing food processors and beverage makers to import sugar themselves under a special permit from the SRA.

It later also allowed 150,000 MT of sugar to be imported, but has yet to announce that it would allow manufacturers to import their own sugar, a move that would significantly boost manufacturers’ profits.

On Saturday, Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, in a statement, thanked the president for his prompt action on their complaint, but he pointed out that the beverage industry would need at least 450,000 tons of premium refined sugar to reach 100 percent of their production capacity for the year.

Coca-Cola said there was now a gap of 400,000 MT in addition to the previous gap of 200,000 MT for the whole year. The company said sugar demand was 2.3 million metric tons for the full year.

Angeles did not specify whether the sugar found in the warehouses was bottling-grade sugar, but she said customs officials suspected that the sugar found in the warehouse had been imported under SO3 and stored by sugar traders to limit market supply and raise prices.

Both houses of Congress have announced they will begin investigations into the sugar supply problem.

Senator Francis Tolentino, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, said Sunday the panel would address the issue on Tuesday.

“Our investigation will focus solely on the proposed measures and determining whether there is [possible charges] which can be returned to [Office of the] Ombudsman,” he said in a radio interview.

Tolentino also said the chamber’s 17-member anti-graft panel will open its investigation on Thursday into the purchase of laptops worth 2.4 billion pesos for the education ministry.

Tolentino stressed that his committee would respect the rights of people who have been called to appear in their investigation, including former SRA officials who resigned over the controversy.

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