President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he is looking at getting concessions from traders to bring down prices of sugar as well as allowing food manufacturers to do direct importation with the approval of the Sugar Regulatory Administration.
“Hopefully, we can get some concessions with the traders so that at least the pricing will be reasonable. The concern is the supply right now. I’ll make sure that there is sufficient supply in the country so that you can operate at full capacity,” he said.
He had a meeting last Monday evening at the Malacañang Palace with the members of the Philippine Chamber of Food Manufacturers Inc.
Marcos even emphasized the potential of direct importation of local food manufacturers with the approval of the SRA as part of “emergency measures” to address the sugar shortage.
Marcos also said that although there is a need for the Philippines to increase production of sugar in the future, the current processing concerns of local food producers must also be addressed.
The President noted the problem was becoming “worrisome” and said the government is doing what it can to protect the jobs of sugar industry workers.
He also added that his administration is studying several measures that can be taken to immediately increase the supply of sugar in the country.
Marcos said the country might only import a total of 150,000 MT of sugar which is half of the proposed 300,000 metric tons which was approved illegally by the SRA board.
Meanwhile, the country’s top soft drinks makers confirmed reports of a refined sugar shortage.
Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Pepsi-Cola Products Philippines, and ARC Refreshments Corporation said the industry is facing a shortage of premium refined sugar or bottlers’ grade sugar.
“We confirm our industry is facing a shortage of premium refined sugar – a key ingredient in many of our products. We are working closely with other stakeholders of the industry and the government to address the situation,” the group said.
Food processors have asked the government to allow industrial and commercial institutions to buy from the government’s planned 150,000 importation volume at prevailing world market prices or at least 10 percent premium from the global price.
Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization, Inc. (Philfoodex) president Ruben See said his members are looking forward to working out, with the government, mutual concerns on sugar supply and pricing.
“We hope the importation goes well. This is good news and will serve to benefit a lot of sectors, including us. But what we are concerned about is that the government may sell the imported sugar at the prevailing local price here which is really expensive,” he said.
If not, he added, the government should just allow food processors to import their own requirement, a call raised in early January 2022, when the price of sugar started creeping up from an average of P50 to P57 per kilogram until early May.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) noted that processors preferred buying local sugar instead of importing the product to help improve the industry and increase collaboration between suppliers and users.
The DTI said processors would immediately buy local sugar if suppliers sold their product at the same price levels as those of imports, and vowed to pay the right tariff if allowed to import.
Also on Tuesday, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri decried the alleged millions of pesos in kickbacks that he said unscrupulous officials of the SRA received for approving importation.
He said this could go for as low as P50 per bag to as high as P100 per bag.
“Let me put it in proper context. Three hundred metric tons of sugar is 6 million bags. At P50, that is P300 million. At P100, that is an income of P600 million,” he said.
He also called for a Blue Ribbon investigation into the sugar imports and the recent fiasco.
“At the very least, there’s usurpation of authority. At the very least, there’s a violation of the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” he said.
The Senate leader emphasized that about 6 million Filipinos—from sugar farmers to laborers to dependents—are reliant on the industry.
“Let us find ways to build a better, more responsive, and more inclusive SRA—not only for the sugar sector but also for every Filipino who uses sugar everyday,” he said.