President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said there may be a need to import sugar come October, but it will only be at most half of the 300,000 metric tons contained in an aborted illegal order issued by the Sugar Regulatory Administration.
“Perhaps, come October, our domestoc supply will already run short and we may need to import, but it will only be a little,” he said in a vlog posted on his Facebook page.
“It will not be as many as the 300,000 metroc tons that they are saying. Perhaps 150,000 metric tons will already be more than enough for the entire year. In my opinion, we cut down significantly on the importation of sugar,” said Marcos who is also the concurrent head of the Department of Agriculture and chairman of the SRA.
Marcos said he would have preferred to do away with importation, but is constrained to do so to prevent a spike in prices if supply remains low.
“While we are still improving our production, we are forced to import but we have to make sure we do not over-import,” he said.
Aside from sugar, Marcos said he is also eyeing government-to-government procurement of fertilizer to temper the rising prices of urea in the country.
“The high price of urea and fertilizer has become a big problem,” he said.
The President said the Department of Trade and Industry is already conducting dialogues with fertilizer traders to“control” the prices of urea.
The government is likewise planning to release “e-vouchers” for fertilizers to aid farmers.
“My dream is simple: For farmers to have sustainable income so that the next generation will be encouraged to continue this industry. My dream is for no Filipino to suffer from hunger,” Marcos added.
The House of Representatives is holding a hearing today into the aborted move to import 300,000 MT of sugar.
“Good governance requires transparency and accountability,” said San Jose del Monte, Bulacan Rep. Florida Robes, who chairs the committee on good government and public accountability.
She said they “want to be enlightened” on the illegal order issued by the SRA that President Marcos rejected.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, for his part, said he will make a privilege speech today to press for the resignation of other SRA officials who took part in the illegal order.
“Those who were participating in this illegal sugar order should resign from their post,” Zubiri said.
Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, who signed the order, has already tendered his resignation.
Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda on Sunday said agricultural hoarding, profiteering and operating cartels must be considered economic sabotage.
Salceda, chairman of the committee on ways and means, said he would file a bill Monday to that effect, subjecting their perpetrators to life imprisonment and steep fines.
“It’s time to put greater teeth on the provisions of the Price Act as far as they apply to agricultural products. There is no economic crime more contemptible than knowingly depriving the people of food. That is the lowest depth of social evil,” he said.
Under Salceda’s proposal, the hoarding, or profiteering off of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish, and cruciferous vegetables, in its raw state, or which have undergone the simple processes of preparation or preservation for the market, with a minimum amount of P1 million, or rice, with a minimum amount of P10 million, will be considered economic sabotage.
The bill would amend Republic Act No. 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, by adding offenses defined under Section 5 of the Price Act.
“I want to give the government the legal basis to raid hoarders and cartels, and to punish them with the full brunt of the law. I especially think there is something bitter going on in the sugar sector,” he said.
He cited higher than usual withdrawals of imported sugar, lower than usual transfers of milled raw sugar to refiners, as possible “smoking guns” of abuse in the sugar market.
“Mills have been transferring just 14,000MT of raw sugar to refineries from September 2021 to present, compared to 86,000 MT over the same period a year ago,” he said.
“Another figure doesn’t make sense to me. While demand for raw sugar was down, demand for refined sugar was actually up, suspiciously due to faster withdrawals of stocks of imports,” he added.
“I suspect abuse in the sugar market. The planters are saying the harvest didn’t decline as much as the market suggests it did. Production declined by just 16 percent, but prices are up as much as 90 percent year on year. If something looks, smells, and feels nefarious, it probably is,” he said.
He said President Marcos can constitute a task force on agricultural hoarding, similar to what President President Rodrigo Duterte did with rice in 2018.
Senator Imee Marcos, on a warpath over the aborted sugar importation, said the resignation of Sebastian was not enough.
On Sunday, she assailed the Department of Agriculture (DA) plan to import white onions due to an alleged supply shortage.
“Let this serve as a fair warning to all concerned,” Senator Marcos said. “We are aware of the modus operandi going on. It’s the same old story. It just keeps repeating itself,” she said.
“First, they smuggle. Then they create a shortage, and produce a legitimate import permit,” she said. “By next week, I have no doubt smuggled onions will flood the market covered by a ‘legitimate’ importation order of gargantuan proportions.”
At the height of the sugar importation fiasco last week, she revealed that some P36 million worth of onions were wrongly declared as “spring roll patties” and “plain churros” and were confiscated in Misamis Oriental.
The senator said she was unconvinced there was a shortage because the DA has not presented any hard data to back this, “just blanket claims that the warehouses we inspected were really empty.”
Also on Sunday, Magsasaka party-list Rep. Argel Cabatbat on Sunday said those who recommended the appointment of Sebastian must not be allowed to refer anyone to replace him.
On Saturday, Malacañang defended Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez, whose verbal order to create a sugar importation plan appeared to be misunderstood and became the basis for the illegal SRA order.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the importation plan would give them information. It was not an order to import.
Sebastian, who signed Sugar Order No. 4, resigned Friday.
The unauthorized signing of the order on behalf of the President is still under investigation, Cruz-Angeles said.
“The President is objective. He’s leaving the investigation to be conducted without his interference. The investigation has to be fair,” she said.
Sugar planters’ groups supported the President’s decision to reject the importation plan.
On Friday, the Asociacion de Agricultores de La Carlota y Pontevedra Inc. and the La Carlota Mill District Multi-Purpose Cooperative said it is ill-advised to import additional sugar as the milling season is about to start and will augment the current supply.
The United Sugar Producers Federation, the largest sugar federation in the country, also hoped that there would be a reorganization of the DA and the SRA following the incident.