The sugar shipment from Thailand that Customs agents seized at the Subic port of Zambales was aboveboard, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) said Sunday.
This developed as authorities are finding out if warehouses recently inspected by Customs and Trade officials were used for hoarding sugar stocks—and if it constitutes economic sabotage, SRA Deputy Administrator Guillermo Tejida III said over the weekend.
In a statement, Tejada said the 7,000 metric tons of sugar intercepted by Customs agents at the Subic port onboard vessel M/V Bangpakaew were part of Sugar Order No. 3 on the importation of 200,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar approved by the SRA Board in May 2022.
In a memo to the Bureau of Customs, Tejida also said the Thai shipment was legitimate.
“This is to certify that the imported cane refined sugar from Thailand shipped by Ruamkamlarp Export Co. Ltd., and consigned to Oro-Agritrade Inc. for the account of ARC Refreshment Corporation…. onboard M/V Bangpakaew…. has been cleared by this Office as ‘C’ or reserve sugar as per Sugar Order No.3, Series of 2021-2022,” read the certification letter addressed to the Customs bureau.
The SRA stated the clearance is valid until Sept. 4, 2022.
Importer Oro-Agritrade Inc., in a statement, denied government statements saying their import permit was “recycled” and that it is “open for scrutiny.”
“We hold a valid permit and clearance from the Sugar Regulatory Administration,” the statement said.
On the hoarding suspicions, Tejida said during an interview on Dobol B TV: “We have to understand that hoarding is an offense subject to verification.”
“Even the Department of Trade and Industry would not categorically state that there is hoarding in these warehouses,” he added.
The Bureau of Customs said Sunday it is inspecting warehouses to ensure that the supply of sugar will be sufficient, as its agents found at least 60,000 bags of suspected hoarded sugar during surprise inspections in four warehouses in Guiguinto, Bulacan on Saturday.
The huge volume of sugar was discovered when Customs personnel, armed with a Letter of Authority, wielded their visitorial power to inspect warehouses inside T12 Polo Land Industrial Estate, located along Ilang-Ilang St. in Barangay Tabang.
“Authorities found imported sugar from Thailand in the inspected warehouses at 50 kilograms per sack. At least two of the warehouses were half-full while one warehouse had sacks of sugar neatly stacked up to the roof,” the Office of the Press Secretary said in a statement.
BOC inspectors learned from the warehouse caretaker that the sacks of sugar imported from Thailand arrived at the Manila International Container Terminal on Friday night.
The OPS said authorities were informed that the import permit used for the Thailand sugar was the allocation for Sugar Order No. 3 (SO-3) approved by the Sugar Regulatory Board in February.
Customs officials are still verifying the authenticity of the importation documents presented to them by the warehouse caretaker.
Following this latest development, the OPS said Malacañang is now open to the possibility of an “artificial” shortage of sugar supply in the country.
“The huge volume of sugar discovered by authorities in the various inspected warehouses in Luzon has led Malacañang to conclude that the sugar shortage is artificial, brought about by the hoarding of sugar traders who want to rake in huge profits from the sudden spike in sugar price,” the statement read.
Customs Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz said he tapped his men from the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) and Enforcement and Security Service (ESS) over the weekend to initiate the inspection of warehouses in Caloocan City and Marilao in Bulacan.
The Customs men asked the warehouse operators to present necessary papers and other documents within 15 days of their inspection after they found thousands of sacks of sugar and warned them of outright seizure of any prohibited items.
The team then will refer them to the Department of Trade and Industry SRA to check possible infractions.
The sugar shipment was seized by Customs operatives on Aug. 18 at the Subic Port. At least 19 crew members of the ship Bangpakaew were detained.
The Thai exporter is listed as Ruamkamlarp Export Co. Ltd., while the local customs broker was identified as Malou Leynes Buerano.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles earlier said that the confiscation was based on a report by Ruiz, who claimed that the import permit used for the shipment was “recycled.”