Sugar regulator chief quits

Bella Cariaso - The Philippine Star
Sugar regulator chief quits
David John Thaddeus Alba
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines —  Agri group bucks sale of smuggled sugar Administrator David John Thaddeus Alba of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) has resigned amid the controversial importation of 440,000 metric tons of sugar.

In an interview with The STAR, SRA board member and planters’ representative Pablo Luis Azcona confirmed that President Marcos had accepted the courtesy resignation of Alba, but denied that the SRA chief was a “sacrificial lamb” in the new sugar mess.

“No, he was not the sacrificial lamb. Administrator Alba decided to resign based on his health. He cannot control his blood pressure. To this day, administrator Alba has not been mentioned or implicated in any of the accusations thrown about in the media,” Azcona said.

The National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP) yesterday lauded Alba’s resignation.

“We praise his decision to resign, if he reasonably feels that he is simply being
manipulated to commit acts or omissions, which are disadvantageous and grossly damaging to the sugar industry,” NFSP president Enrique Rojas said in a statement.

Marcos appointed Alba in August 2022 following the resignation of then SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, who stepped down from his position in the wake of the issuance of Sugar Order No. 4 authorizing the importation of 300,000 MT of sugar.
Alba had approved the issuance of clearances on the 440,000 MT sugar imports following a memorandum from Department of Agriculture (DA) Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban directing him to certify the legality of the outsourced sweetener.
In a memorandum dated Feb. 27, Panganiban tasked AIba to issue the necessary documentation to three importers — All Asian Countertrade Inc. (240,000 MT), Edison Lee Marketing (100,000 MT) and S&D SUCDEN Philippines Inc. (100,000 MT).

On Wednesday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Marcos should order the immediate seizure of the illegally imported sweeteners and blacklist the erring importers. Hontiveros earlier urged the Senate Blue Ribbon panel to investigate what she described as “government-sponsored” sugar smuggling.

Sugar importation

Azcona defended the move of the DA and SRA to allow the arrival of the 440,000 MT of imported sugar, noting that All Asian Countertrade, Edison Lee Marketing and Sucden Philippines were able to comply with the requirements set by the SRA.

“Undersecretary Panganiban also submitted all the sugar to the control and classification of the SRA. They also paid all the proper SRA fees,” he said.

According to Azcona, Panganiban already defended his decision to award the 440,000 MT sugar imports to the three importers, saying he was acting “upon the instructions” of Marcos through Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.

“The question should be very simple. Was the order to import before the sugar order proper or not?  All the reasons and acceptance were done by Undersecretary Panganiban in his press briefing,” Azcona stated, adding that those who were questioning the legality of the sugar imports were not even sugar farmers.

He said the release of the imported sugar to the market will proceed unless a temporary restraining order (TRO) is issued by the court.

“My other concern is to make sure the consuming public, the households, get P85 to P90 per kilo on their refined sugar, which is also being addressed at the moment,” Azcona added.

Dispose seized sugar

Farmers’ group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) on Monday opposed the decision of the DA and the SRA to sell smuggled seized sugar at Kadiwa stores after President Marcos gave the go-signal to make the sweeteners available in the outlets.

SINAG president Rosendo So maintained that confiscated sugar should be disposed of by burying in the ground instead of selling to the Kadiwa outlets. “If we do that, we will encourage smuggling. All the smuggled goods should not be sold in the market as these smuggled farm products illegally entered the country,” So said.

“We have locally produced and yet you will allow the sale of smuggled sugar to the Kadiwa. It will not help, as it will affect the local sugar farmers. Normally, Kadiwa stores sell local agricultural products,” So said.

He added that the government should not exempt sugar in the present protocol where all smuggled farm products should be condemned.

“Just like confiscated pork and other meat products, the seized smuggled sugar should be buried instead of allowing Filipinos to consume the products. We don’t know the source of these smuggled sugar if it is rejected in other countries so it’s best for us not to consume these,” So noted.

For his part, Azcona said the DA and SRA would finalize the rules on sale of the seized smuggled sugar, which include 8,000 MT confiscated in Batangas and 4,000 MT seized in Subic.

The SRA has asked Marcos to approve the sale of the confiscated smuggled sugar at Kadiwa stores amid the spike in retail price of the sweeteners.

Based on the monitoring of the DA on Thursday, the retail price of refined sugar ranged between P86 and P110 per kilo; washed and brown sugar, between P80 and P95 per kilo. – Gilbert Bayoran

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