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Opinion

EDITORIAL - Time for a sugar inventory

The Philippine Star

The resignations have been accepted, and President Marcos has started reorganizing the Sugar Regulatory Administration. A new undersecretary has been appointed in the Department of Agriculture, which the President heads concurrently, following the resignation of Leocadio Sebastian over a sugar importation order issued by the SRA board.

Amid the resignations, questions persist on whether the SRA’s Sugar Order No. 4, allowing the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar, was signed by Sebastian due to an honest misunderstanding of the scope of his authority as agriculture undersecretary and chief of staff to the DA secretary, or due to malicious intent tainted by graft, as is being insinuated by certain quarters.

Sebastian and the SRA have maintained that the sugar shortage is real, causing prices to double since last year and requiring importation. The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said the three biggest producers of soft drinks in the country could run out of sugar by next month. Some quarters have expressed concern that the crisis could drive the soft drink giants and other food processors to relocate to neighboring countries where supply and prices of sugar and other raw materials are stable.

Opponents, including domestic sugar producers, say the shortage is artificial and is being used to justify unnecessary importation. The National Economic and Development Authority has taken the middle ground, saying if local supply cannot meet demand, the government should allow importation.

Local sugarcane planters say a good way to settle this question is to conduct an inventory of the country’s sugar stocks. There are only about 30 sugar mills nationwide so this shouldn’t be an impossible task. Local government units can be tapped to assist in identifying warehouses or other sites where sugar stocks are possibly being hoarded, as opponents of the importation are claiming. The planters say they have been urging the SRA to conduct such an inventory for a long time, but this was never done while the agency was headed by Hermenegildo Serafica.

Last Tuesday, Malacañang announced that the President had accepted Serafica’s resignation. With the reorganization of the SRA, the sugar inventory should be carried out. It would help the government decide whether 150,000 MT of sugar should be imported by October, as the President is said to be considering. In line with this possibility, industrial users might be allowed to directly import their sugar needs, according to Malacañang.

Domestic sugar industry players naturally oppose importations, but the government must also consider the needs of consumers. The government’s decision making cannot be made simply by putting its finger in the air. An accurate sugar inventory is needed.

SRA

SUGAR

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