EDITORIAL- Enforce the law, provide accurate data

The Philippine Star

Are there shortages of sugar, white onions and other agricultural products that would warrant importation? It’s hard to say for sure, because there is no official inventory and central database on agricultural production that the public can access, as players in the sector have pointed out. Corn and broiler entrepreneurs have said the lack of such official data has complicated planning for their production.

After an order to import 500,000 metric tons of sugar cost agriculture scientist Leocadio Sebastian his job as undersecretary and chief of staff of the Department of Agriculture, President Marcos announced that the government might import 150,000 MT of sugar in October after all, once domestic supply has been depleted.

This is amid the continuing high cost of sugar, with retail prices hitting up to P110 per kilo in some outlets – double the price from last year. Certain quarters have accused unnamed groups of creating an artificial shortage to justify the importation of sugar. So far, however, no raids or inspections have been conducted that produced proof of this accusation. At least a recent raid tended to bolster accusations that the shortage of white onions is artificial.

Another accusation is that the Sugar Regulatory Administration has been favoring industrial users in the allocation of sugar, to the detriment of households and other small-scale consumers. Evidence to bolster this accusation has also yet to be presented.

Instead, micro consumers such as hole-in-the-wall pan de sal outlets and ambulant vendors of banana-Q and sago’t gulaman are groaning from the eye-watering cost of sugar. They are worried about reports that supplies could run out by month’s end. And they tend to believe that the sugar shortage is real, so they think the government should not bow to domestic producers who can’t meet the demand but are blocking efforts to stabilize the supply and prices.

Under Republic Act 10845, smuggling of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish and raw cruciferous vegetables worth at least P1 million as well as rice valued at P10 million or more constitutes economic sabotage. Enacted in May 2016, RA 10845 imposes penalties of 12 years to life in prison as well as stiff fines, with the maximum sentence imposed if the offender is a government official.

The government should launch an intensified crackdown on any violator of RA 10845. At the same time, the government should begin putting together a reliable inventory of agricultural output and other up-to-date information that players in the sector can access. These efforts must complement measures to boost agricultural productivity for the long term.


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