Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual on Thursday proposed allowing food and beverage manufacturers to import their own sugar needs as the Bureau of Customs admitted that the bags of sugar it seized in Subic port were not illegal or smuggled.
Pascual acknowledged that the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) had the last say on sugar imports, but said the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) also recognizes the needs of manufacturers who use sugar for their production.
The DTI has included sugar in its regular monitoring rounds in groceries and supermarkets that pledged to lower the retail price of sugar to P70 per kilo.
The DTI said the inspection of warehouses storing sugar will continue until the price of sugar reflects real market prices.
Before the crackdown, a group of community bakers said there could be sugar hoarding, since prices had doubled despite the availability of the sweetener.
According to the Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization Inc., only a few selected industrial users are now allowed to import for their own supply.
“These select few (users) will not amount to 10 companies. But we have many manufacturers that are also using sugar in their operations. We hope we will also be given the opportunity to import our own sugar requirement,” said Philfoodex president Ruben See.
One of the biggest industrial users, Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Inc. (CCBPI), asserted that industrial manufacturers need premium industrial grade sweeteners to produce premium products.
“We’d like to emphasize, however, that not all sugar is the same. Food and beverage manufacturers need premium refined sugar to maintain high-quality products. This type of sugar is not the same sugar that is commonly used in households,” the company said in a statement.
The beverage industry needs at least 450,000 metric tons (MT) of premium refined bottler grade sugar to use 100 percent of its manufacturing capacity for the remaining months of 2022.
CCBPI noted that the Philippine food and beverage industry’s operations were hurt by the sugar shortage.
The company has adopted various measures aimed at cushioning the business impact of the lack of premium refined sugar supply.
“We and the broader industry look forward to continuing to work with the President and all relevant government offices to address the situation and deliver a sustainable solution as we get back to delivering our full line-up of beverages and supporting the country’s economic recovery,” CCBPI said.
Meanwhile, several officials of the Port of Subic were reinstated to their positions after an investigation revealed that the 140,000 sacks of sugar seized were not smuggled, and that there was no negligence on the part of the port officials.
Customs Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz reinstated the following officials to their posts: District Port Collector Maritess T. Martin; Deputy Collector (Assessment) Maita S. Acevedo; Deputy Collector (Operations) Giovanni Ferdinand A. Leynes; Assessment Division Chief Belinda F. Lim; Enforcement and Security Service (ESS) District Commander Vincent Mark S. Malasmas and; Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) Field Supervisor Justin S. Geli.
“I announce the closure and the termination of the investigation conducted on the alleged smuggled importation of refined sugar at the Port of Subic,” the BOC chief said in a statement.
He added that the investigation showed that the shipments were processed in accordance with the existing rules and regulations of the Bureau of Customs and that there was no violation or discrepancy in the shipments.
Also, the verification of the documents such as the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Certificate for Release of Imported Sugar; Food and Drug Administration (FDA) License to Operate; Certificate of
Analysis, FDA Certificate of Product Registration; Bill of Lading; Packing List; Asean Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) Form-D; Commercial Invoice and Load Port Survey Report, showed no irregularities.
Ruiz added that the SRA clearances presented on the subject shipments proved authentic and were not recycled as alleged.
The shipments contained 140,000 sacks of refined sugar from Thailand exported by Ruamkamlarp Export Co. Ltd. and consigned to Oro-Agritrade Inc.
In the Senate, Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel III said the Blue Ribbon committee cannot end its investigation of the illegal sugar import order if Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez cannot be cross examined on his testimony to the panel during its first hearing.
“The Senate Blue Ribbon investigation cannot and should not be closed until and unless we get to cross-examine Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez on the testimony he gave, ” Pimentel said.
“This is our right as members of the BRC and also, as a matter of fairness to those he mentioned in his testimony in a very negative light,” he added.
He also chided the chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee, Senator Francis Tolentino, for saying that Rodriguez was too busy to attend the hearing.
He said the statement weakens the committee.
Earlier, Tolentino said he would come out with a partial committee report next week, given Rodriguez’s absence from the latest hearing.
“We know that he (Rodriquez) has many things to do because the President will go to Indonesia, Singapore, and he’s doing everything. If he won’t go with the President to the United Nations, he might be the caretaker of the Office of the President. But the invitation still remains,” Tolentino said.
“The ES is vital to the Office of the President so let us just wait for him.”
He added that the committee can also come out with a partial recommendation while waiting for the testimony of the other persons.
Also on Thursday, Senator Cynthia Villar rebuked officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA), and challenged them to resign if they cannot do their jobs and threatened to file charges against them if they did not suspend the implementation of a memorandum that goes against the spirit of the Rice Tariffication Law.
Acknowledging that the farmers belong to the country’s poorest sector, Villar noted the government should help them to increase their production that would eventually augment their earnings.
During the organizational hearing of the Senate agriculture and food committee, Villar cited the need for their collaborative efforts to uplift the lives of Filipino farmers through financial assistance provided to them by the government.
Villar, a huge budget has been allocated to projects for the farmers and stakeholders in the agri industry, but they found out that these funds have remained disbursed and unobligated.
Those who got tongue lashing from Villar during the Committee’s organizational meeting were Dr. Junel Soriano, OIC director of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM); Dionisio Alvindia, Director IV, Philippine Center for Postharvest, Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) and Benjamin Madrigal, Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) administrator.
Villar also demanded from the three a commitment that they will resign should they fail to do their jobs.
During the hearing, Villar mentioned Memo No. 34, issued during the time of Agriculture Secretary William Dar, creating an advisory council for the implementation of the farm mechanization program. This was supposed to be done by the PhilMech.
The Rice Tariffication Law created a P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), P5 billion of which would be allotted to farm mechanization, P3 billion to seedlings, and P1 billion to expanded rice credit assistance.
“Don’t implement this memo. You have two memos that you implemented through Secretary Dar. The Memo 34 which created an advisory council to implement the mechanization program of the RCEF, that is against the law. I will tell you I will file a case against you if you don’t stop this advisory committee,” Villar, who heads the committee, said.
The senator also flared up when she learned that the P1.1 billion budget for the procurement of composting facilities has not yet been spent.
She noted that one composting machine will produce one ton of organic fertilizer every month.
“That would be 12 tons a year. They will no longer buy fertilizer. They can recoup the cost of the composting facility in one year,” said Villar.
Being vice chairperson of the Senate finance committee, Villar said she asked that P1.1 billion from the P4.4 billion allocated for the national rice program be moved to purchase of a composting facility for sustainability.
Senator Imee Marcos said she was shocked that the P1.1 billion had not yet been spent during the last quarter of the year.