NegOcc lawmaker supports call for sugar smuggling probe

By Dolly Yasa

BACOLOD City – Negros Occidental 6th District Rep Mercedes Alvarez-Lansang on Thursday supported the call of three sugar planters’ groups to investigate the reported sugar smuggling that caused prices to drop to the disadvantage of small sugar planters.

“Yes, definitely I will support if it’s the sentiments of our sugar planters here,” Alvarez-Lansang told reporters here.

She also revealed that the Lower House Committee on Agriculture is set to visit the province to look into the concerns of the sugar industry pertaining to sugar smuggling.

She added that she will take up the sugar smuggling concern with other Negros Occidental lawmakers as it will be more effective if the efforts are collective.

Earlier, three planters federations and a millers association called for an investigation into the questionable sugar shipment which entered the country before the issuance of Sugar Order No. 6 which allowed the importation of 440,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar.

They also urged the House of Representatives and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to investigate this and other blatant cases of sugar smuggling.

The National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP) headed by Enrique D. Rojas, the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations (CONFED) headed by Aurelio J. Valderrama, Jr., the Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers (PANAYFED) headed by Danilo A. Abelita, and the Philippine Sugar Millers Association (PSMS) headed by Pablo L. Lobregat were alarmed by recent reports of alleged sugar smuggling, according to a common press statement.

The groups narrated that for the past two weeks, different sources have reported the arrival at the Batangas Port of 260 20-foot containers containing an estimated 5,000 MT or 100,000 bags of refined sugar from Thailand.

This shipment, worth around PhP400 million in the retail market, reportedly arrived on February 9, before the release on February 15 of Sugar Order No. 6 allowing the importation of 440,000 MT of sugar, the group pointed out.

That shipment has thus been publicly questioned as being unauthorized and therefore considered smuggled.

“As affected stakeholders, we are deeply concerned. An open and transparent investigation must be quickly undertaken to establish the facts. If an order was issued to the Collector of the Port of Batangas to release the sugar, where is this order? And who issued it?” the planters and millers inquired.

“If, on the other hand, the sugar in question is not supported by a legitimate import authorization and Release Order from the SRA, that sugar should be seized by Customs, pursuant to existing laws. The importer/s and official/s involved in the entry and subsequent release of this shipment should also be investigated, and if determined to be liable, should be made to answer to the full extent of the law,” they emphasized.

The group also condemned any and all acts of sugar smuggling, which constitute economic sabotage that wreak havoc on the livelihood of thousands of sugarcane farmers, 90% of whom are ARBs and marginal farmers who rely solely on sugar for their sustenance.

“We urge the House of Representatives and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to conduct a full-blown investigation into this and other blatant cases of sugar smuggling. The public deserves to know who is responsible, and what concrete actions will be taken by the concerned government agencies to stop this nefarious practice,” they appealed to legislators.

“It is our position that the sugar import program must not only be carefully calibrated in terms of volume and timing, so as not to severely affect millgate prices, but it should also be open to all qualified traders and producers’ groups through a process that is transparent, fair and equitable,” they stressed.

The NFSP, CONFED, PANAYFED and PSMA enjoined all sugar producers’ federations, unaffiliated associations and cooperatives, millers, labor groups and all affected stakeholders to join us in fighting for the survival of the sugar industry by exposing and opposing any blatant attempt at sugar smuggling.

Earlier, Senator Risa Hontiveros exposed 260 containers of sugar arriving at the Batangas port ahead of the allowed date of the sugar importation, as she urged the Senate Blue Ribbon committee to conduct an investigation on what she defined as “government-sponsored” sugar smuggling.

Hontiveros said that the 260 20-foot containers came early last February 9 and were supposed to arrive on March 1, 2023, based on the Sugar Order No. 6 released by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA.)

SO No. 6 allowed the importation of 440,000 metric tons (MT) of refined sugar from Thailand. The imported sugar from its importer All-Asian Countertrade, Inc., appeared to be confirmed by a letter to the Bureau of Customs (BOC) from the Department of Agriculture (DA) dated February 14, 2023.