CONGRATULATIONS to Sugar Regulatory Administrator Bernard 'Nene" Trebol for Malacañang's extension of his term in SRA! This vote of confidence from President Aquino speaks volumes on your performance, particularly on the recent successes of anti-smuggling operations under your watch.

On a personal note, I am grateful to Administrator Trebol for honoring me with the reply to my letter about SRA's anti-smuggling efforts. Rest assured, Sir Nene, that Cane Points is always wiling to help SRA in its info dissemination drive so that we can enlighten stakeholders on the latest developments in the industry.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

At the height of the Cebu sugar smuggling issue, I wrote the Administrator and inquired about the status of the SRA-Cebu personnel's report regarding the anti-smuggling operations in Cebu by joint operatives of SRA, SASO, PNP and Customs.

In his reply, he said, "SRA has received reports of the prevalence of smuggled sugar in Cebu, and the report of (our) Senior Production and Regulation Officer ... on the operations in Cebu bears this out."

Trebol stressed that he has already forwarded the official report to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, copy furnished Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez, and Imelda Balano of the Presidential Management Staff.

"SRA considers smuggling as one of the more serious problems confronting the industry, and its solution - through the prosecution of those involved - is my top most priority," he assured stakeholders.

In pursuit of this objective, SRA's Sugar Monitoring and Sugar Production and Regulations Divisions together with the private-sector's Sugar Anti-Smuggling Office have been conducting operations in Pampanga, Binondo, Cebu City and Mandaue City. Similar operations are underway, targeting other areas identified to be centers of bagsakan of smuggled sugar, Trebol said.

In last Monday's column, I cited some results of joint SRA and SASO anti-smuggling operations as well as the effect of these successful operations on sugar smuggling activities.

For one, it has put fear into the hearts of retailers and repackers of smuggled sugar. It has also served notice to Bureau of Customs personnel that they may find themselves in hot water if SRA and SASO find undocumented sugar in their areas of responsibility. Most important, SRA and SASO's campaign has destroyed the aura of impunity which surrounds sugar smuggling activities in the past years.

Despite these recent successes, Trebol and SASO head Gen. Joel Goltiao lament that they could have been more effective if only some Bureau of Customs personnel were not dragging their feet in the drive against sugar smuggling.

Since SRA and SASO lack police powers, they have to seek the assistance of Customs personnel to effect the actual confiscation whenever undocumented sugar is discovered by SRA and SASO. Most often, the suspected smuggled sugar were already removed from the warehouses when Customs people arrived, said Gen. Goltiao.

Administrator Trebol aims to plug this loophole. He stated, "As a long term and permanent solution to this problem, SRA is espousing the amendment to the Tariff and Customs Code to, among others, grant regulatory agencies authority to conduct seizure operations of smuggled items subject to their regulation.

If approved, SRA may on its own conduct raid of suspected warehouses of smuggled sugar. Under the current provisions of the Tariff Code, SRA has to coordinate with and seek the approval of the Bureau of Customs during seizure operations," he explained.

"In addition thereto, SRA is also supporting the amendment empowering regulatory agencies and the private sector to prosecute sugar smugglers. This will ensure that cases against smugglers and their cohorts are filed and prosecuted until finality," Administrator Trebol emphasized.

While SRA works on these amendments to give more teeth to the anti-smuggling drive, it might as well include amendments which will ensure that confiscated smuggled sugar is disposed of in such a manner that it cannot fall back into the hands of the smugglers or that it will not leak into the domestic market.

Further, SRA might want to include amendments to regulations which allow owners of undocumented sugar up to 48 hours to produce their documentation. A lot of things can happen and a lot of money can change hands in a span of 48 hours.

Amendments might include the provision that possession of undocumented sugar is prima facie evidence of sugar smuggling and, as such, will allow the summary confiscation of the subject sugar.

Numerous amendments can be introduced to strengthen the anti-smuggling campaign but the key word here is "amendment". This necessitates legislative remedial measures which have to be worked out in both houses of Congress.

Hopefully, congressmen from Batanes, Basilan, Palawan, Tawi-Tawi, Baguio, Makati, Mindoro, Romblon, Marinduque, Sorsogon, Surigao, Zambales, Zamboanga, Catanduanes or Quezon City will heed SRA's call and spearhead the move to effect the necessary amendments to protect the welfare of Negrense sugar producers.

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