AN OFFICIAL of the Sugar Anti-Smuggling Office (Saso) said the drive against sugar smuggling needs more teeth.

Saso head retired Gen. Joel Goltiao said the lack of police power of his office and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) is a major roadblock in the campaign against sugar smuggling.

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Saso is the anti-smuggling arm organized and funded by the sugar industry to gather intelligence data on the activities of sugar smugglers. It is deputized by the SRA and vested with visitorial powers in pursuit of its anti-smuggling campaign.

However, Saso and even SRA itself does not have police powers to apprehend suspected smuggled sugar as well as those engaged in sugar smuggling. Once it has identified suspected smuggled sugar, SASO operatives still have to ask the assistance of Bureau of Customs, which is the only agency authorized to conduct the actual apprehension.

Goltiao said that Saso’s activities are only “emergency measures” in nature because the industry would not have a long term need for Saso if only the concerned government agencies are performing their job against smuggling.

Jack Alonso, officer-in-charge of the Sugar Master Plan Foundation, added that the lack of police powers by Saso and SRA is compounded by the slow prosecution of the owners of apprehended smuggled sugar.

“We are pushing for the amendment of existing laws to give police powers to SRA and Saso as well as allow the sugar industry to intervene as the aggrieved party in the prosecution of sugar smuggling cases to speed up the judicial process,” Alonso said.

Jaime G. Golez, president of the Silay-based Association of Productive Planters of Negros Occidental and NFSP’s vice-president for Western Visayas, underscored the need for remedial legislative measures to give more teeth to the sugar industry’s anti-smuggling campaign.

“Negros solons should lead the way in pushing for these amendments to protect the sugar industry,” stated Jose Mari Miranda, president of the Cebu-based Bogo-Medellin Planters Association.

It can be recalled that it was Miranda who reported early this month the presence of smuggled sugar in Cebu. He was informed of this fact by Cebu sugar traders who cannot find a market for their locally-procured sugar because of the proliferation of cheaper smuggled sugar from Thailand.

NFSP president Enrique D. Rojas brought this to the attention of the Bureau of Customs but the Cebu Customs personnel denied the existence of sugar smuggling in their area of responsibility despite the substantiated reports from Saso and SRA on apprehended smuggled sugar.

NFSP’s unwavering stand on sugar smuggling has sent a clear message to smugglers as well as to Bureau of Customs personnel, according to Alonso.

He said that some customs personnel have already communicated with Saso that they will be more vigilant against smuggled sugar in their respective areas of responsibility. (Butch Bacaoco)