CALLING all Don Bosco - Victorias alumni and past pupils! Balik kita sa Don Bosco! On February 6, Saturday, we will have our general alumni homecoming hosted by Batch '85. Thanksgiving Mass begins at 8 a.m. followed by registration at 9 a.m. Come and reminisce our high school days with classmates and schoolmates. See you there!

Refined sugar prices hit P60 per kilo in some retail outlets in Metro Manila over the weekend. The spike in prices prompted DA Secretary Yap to ask the Sugar Regulatory Administration to present a new suggested retail price (SRP) for sugar.

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According to Yap, "The consuming public should be informed about the SRP for sugar to prevent overpricing by speculators and unscrupulous wholesalers and retailers who are taking advantage of the current sugar situation."

Millgate prices in last week's bidding are threatening to breach the P2,000 per 50-kilo bag level. That's an almost P40 per kilo of raw sugar at the millgate level. Add to that the refining tolling fee, E-VAT, transportation cost, repacking cost and retailers profit-margin, you can easily see why retail prices of refined sugar have surged.

But wait! The sugar selling at P60 per kilo in Metro Manila are not the sugar which were bid out at almost P2,000 per bag last week! Those sugar presently being sold in Metro Manila retail outlets were bought several weeks ago when millgate prices were only within the P1,700 per bag level.

SRA Administrator Lito Coscolluella explained that weekly changes in millgate prices should not automatically reflect in the retail market. "Millgate prices change every week, and there is a lag time of three weeks before these prices are reflected in the retail market," Lito said.

How come prices have spiked to P60 per kilo in Metro Manila?

Until the end of January, refined sugar is supposed to sell at only P52 per kilo. By the first week of February, it is expected to increase to P54 per kilo based on millgate prices of P1,900 per bag for raw sugar.

Coscolluela feels that an unrealistic SRP which is not reflective of millgate prices will cause a tightening of sugar supplies, particularly in Metro Manila. He believes that a realistic SRP is necessary to protect the consuming public from profiteers who are taking advantage of the perceived tightness in supply to artificially bloat sugar prices.

Thus, there is a need to set a reasonable SRP which protects the interests of both the producers and the consumers. But what if the SRP is being blatantly disregarded by unscrupulous persons who are out to make a quick buck as in the case in Metro Manila where sugar is selling at P8 more per kilo than the SRP?

Where is the DTI to curb the excesses of these profiteers? It was the DTI who trumpeted last week that there is hoarding of sugar. But what has DTI been doing regarding this alleged hoarding? Did it raid warehouses? Did it conduct inspection of the mills, the quedans and the shipping permits to determine the sugar's whereabouts?

Or is DTI most effective only in spewing off press releases while sitting on its hands?

There is sufficient prima facie evidence for DTI to run after the businessmen who artificially bloat sugar prices beyond the SRP. What has the department been doing to protect the consumers?

Come to think of it. Experience tells us that when millgate prices crash, retail prices remain the same. When millgate prices increase, retail prices automatically increase even when what the retailers were selling were sugar bought at the previous lower price.

The producers were robbed of the rightful fruits of their labor and investment that the consumers bore the brunt of the retail prices while the profiteers laughed all the way to the bank. Where is the DTI to ensure fair play for the producers and consumers?

Moreover, the spike in sugar prices will motivate other greedy souls to use cheaper sugar substitutes such as the carcinogenic "magic sugar." Several years ago, magic sugar has been discovered being used by street vendors and sold at retail outlets. Was it only two years ago that NBI-Bacolod head Mamerto Cortez and his men raided and apprehended several packs of magic sugar right here in Bacolod?

If there is a market for a product, whether the product is legitimate or illegal, there will always be an enterprising soul who will fill that demand in the market. With current high sugar prices, cheaper sugar substitutes might become in demand. And where there's profit to be made, somebody will step up to supply that demand.

DTI and other government agencies should be pro-active. Aside from running after profiteers who are taking advantage of the perceived tightness in sugar supply, government should also be on the lookout against the entry of harmful sugar substitutes.

This early, government should form a task force to pre-empt this illicit market. They should conduct info dissemination to enlighten the public against the dangers of magic sugar and similar carcinogenic substances.

They should not wait for these carcinogenic substances to leak into the market. They should instead be vigilant and they should thwart any attempt to introduce these dangerous substances into the diet of the unsuspecting consumers.

(For reactions and suggestions, email bbacaoco@yahoo.com.)