By Macon Ramos-Araneta
Senator Risa Hontiveros has urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to permanently blacklist the three trading firms allegedly involved in the so-called “government-sponsored” sugar smuggling scandal if the evidence warranted.
Hontiveros also renewed her call for a Senate investigation into the latest sugar import fiasco involving 440,000 metric tons of sugar from Thailand. The shipments reportedly entered the country through the Batangas port.
The opposition senator, who filed Resolution No. 497 seeking an investigation on the issue, said the All Asian Countertrade Inc., Sucden Philippines Inc. and Edison Lee Marketing Corp. should be scrutinized for any irregularity or criminal liability relating to their roles in the reportedly illegal importation of hundreds of thousands of metric tons of sugar in the country.
She said several questions need to be answered especially when it comes to the three government-sponsored firms which targeted to corner importation of the country’s sugar supply.
“If they were involved or there was negligence or anomaly, the DA should immediately place them on blacklist,” she said.
The opposition senator further stated that the DA should also file criminal and administrative charges against them.
“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,” she said.
“If they were just pushed to the wall, 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 also called on government officials in the relevant agencies “to reveal efforts to pressure you or others to enable, protect or cover up illegal act.”
“Let us remember that the prescription period for crimes like agricultural smuggling is 20 years. “
She said there is plenty of time for the truth to come out.
“In the end, you will be left holding the bag, while they are laughing all the way to the bank,” Hontiveros then said.
In a press conference last February 21, Hontiveros revealed documents showing that the three firms were given the go-signal to import 440,000 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, and that his basis was only a memorandum from the Office of the Executive Secretary.
“Who’s responsible to ensure that the three companies will be the only ones allowed to import sugar in the entire country? Who is orchestrating this conspiracy-in-the works to commit large-scale agricultural smuggling and virtual economic sabotage?” the senator said.
Hontiveros also called on her colleagues in the Senate, as well as other government agencies, to swiftly act on the issue, citing the “need to prevent the economic damage a smuggling operation of such size would cause.”
She pointed out that a shipment of 260 20-foot containers of sugar – with inadequate permits- already arrived in the port of Batangas last February 9, 2023, reportedly consigned to All Asian Countertrade Inc.
“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,” Hontiveros said.