BUREAU of Customs (BOC) issued Friday a memorandum directing the deputy commissioners and district collector of the Port of Cebu to conduct investigation on the "proliferation of raw sugar in the domestic markets of Cebu."

This came after Enrique Rojas, president of National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP), called on the attention of the BOC regarding the reported proliferation of raw sugar in Cebu's domestic markets.

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Rojas, in a letter to BOC Officer-in-charge Alexander Arevalo, said: "Mr. Jose Mari M. Miranda, president of the Cebu-based Bogo Medellin Planters Association which is a member of our Federation, informed us that local sugar traders in Cebu are complaining to him that they can not sell their sugar because the local market is flooded with smuggled raw sugar."

The Office of the President and Sugar Regulatory Administration were furnished a copy of the letter.

He said that in the past, smuggled sugar came in bags in its refined form, but because apparently nothing has been done about the rampant sugar smuggling, the smugglers now have become so brazen to bring in smuggled sugar in its raw form in container vans.

He added that sugar producers and even local sugar traders are gravely affected by the cheaper smuggled sugar. Domestically-produced sugar faces unfair competition from smuggled sugar, which is sold at a "dump" price below its production cost.

"This drives down the price of domestic sugar, to the detriment of the sugar producers who are already suffering from high prices of fuel and farm inputs and the damage to crops from El Niño," Rojas explained in his letter to Arevalo.

He said sugar smuggling, or any other form of smuggling for that matter, is economic sabotage. "It deprives the government of much-needed revenues which can be used to deliver services to our people. It also deprives the farmers of the rightful fruits of their labor and investments."

It can be recalled that the Sugar Regulatory Administration, in coordination with the Sugar Alliance of the Philippines, has formed the Sugar Anti-Smuggling Organization (Saso) and finances its operations from the sugar industry's own funds.

However, Saso's hands are tied because it has no police powers. The BOC does not give the necessary mission orders for Customs personnel to accompany Saso personnel in apprehending smuggled sugar and the sugar smugglers, distributors and retailers.

Rojas said the very recent swearing in of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino brought a feeling of optimism to the sugar industry with the expectation that the new President will act and provide solutions to problems facing the industry.

He said now is a very good opportunity for the new administration to show to the Filipinos that it is very serious in its drive to stamp out graft and corruption.

"Under the new administration, the Bureau of Customs, being the lead national agency in regulating the entry of foreign goods, should immediately address the problem of sugar smuggling so that it can show that the Bureau fully supports the anti-corruption drive of President Noynoy Aquino," Rojas said.

In response, Arevalo said the wo deputy commissioners of the BOC and the district collector of the Port of Cebu was already ordered to take appropriate action on the matter and submit a status report as soon as possible. (Butch Bacaoco)