SENATOR Risa Hontiveros called on Tuesday, February 28, 2023 to place on the blacklist three trading firms allegedly involved in what she tagged as a “government-sponsored” smuggling of sugar.
Hontiveros said All Asian Countertrade Inc., Sucden Philippines Inc., and Edison Lee Marketing Corp. should be scrutinized in relation to the alleged irregularities in the sugar importation.
The opposition senator earlier filed Senate Resolution No. 497 seeking an investigation following the issuance of Sugar Order (SO) No. 6 for the importation of 450,000 metric tons of sugar.
In a press conference following the issuance of SO, Hontiveros presented documents showing that the three firms were given the go-signal to import 450,000 metric tons of sugar into the country, even without a Sugar Order from the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) as required by law.
DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban later admitted that it was he who handpicked the three based on memorandum from the Office of the Executive Secretary.
"Madaming tanong na kailangang masagot, lalo na pagdating sa pananagutan nitong tatlong kompanya na nakaambang solohin ang importation ng sugar supply ng bansa. Kung sangkot sila sa kapabayaan o anomaliya, dapat ay agaran silang ilagay sa blacklist ng DA at sampahan ng kasong kriminal o administratibo," Hontiveros said.
(There are many questions that need to be answered, especially when it comes to the responsibility of these three companies that are threatening to monopolize the importation of the country's sugar supply. If they are involved in negligence or anomaly, they should be immediately put on the DA's blacklist and face criminal or administrative charges.)
"I urge the three companies to cooperate with all investigations over this issue. They still have time to choose not to be fully embroiled in such a brazen and outrageous conspiracy. Kung naipit lang sila, then they should immediately reveal to the public the individuals who may be truly responsible for this Sugar Import Fiasco 2.0,” she added.
Hontiveros urged her fellow government officials and concerned government agencies to help in uncovering such an alleged illegal acts.
"Sino ba ang nagkakakamada na siguraduhing tatlong kompanya lang ang papayagang mag-angkat ng kailangang asukal ng buong bansa? Who is orchestrating this conspiracy-in-the works to commit large-scale agricultural smuggling and virtual economic sabotage?" the senator said.
"There is a reason why we have strict laws against smuggling of agricultural goods -- they prevent greedy individuals from hoarding our food supply and keeping prices of agricultural goods unjustly high. Kailangan nating agarang aksyunan ang isyu na ito upang mapapababa ang presyo ng asukal at ng iba pang pagkain na kailangan ng bawat pamilya," Hontiveros added.
Panganiban said SO No. 6 is aimed at managing inflation and building a buffer stock that will adequately meet the country’s sugar requirements as ordered by the President himself.
The Senate earlier launched a probe on the sugar importation mess which stemmed from the issuance of the SO No. 4 which was deemed illegal by the Malacañang as it was not approved by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who was the concurrent chairman of the Sugar Regulatory Board.
The SO no. 4 seeks the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar amid the scarcity of supply in the country due to the onslaught of Typhoon Odette in the country last year which destroyed sugarcane crops in the affected areas which resulted in the increase of its prices.
The committee recommended the filing of charges against former Agriculture undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, former Sugar Regulatory Authority (SRA) Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica and former SRA board members Attorney Roland Beltran and Aurelio Valderrama Jr. for administrative offense of serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and gross insubordination under the revised rules on administrative cases in the civil service.
The committee also recommended the filing of criminal charges for violation of the violation Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016 and usurpation functions.
Also implicated in the sugar fiasco was resigned executive secretary Victor Rodriguez.
In September, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. allowed the importation of 150,000 metric tons of sugar to address the shortage and address its then soaring prices that reached over P100 per kilo. (SunStar Philippines)
Senator Risa Hontiveros (Photo courtesy of the Senate of the Philippines)
February 28, 2023
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