Tell it to SunStar: Senate President Zubiri to SRA officials: Why import when there’s 127,000 MT unreleased sugar in bodegas?

·4 min read

Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri availed on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 of the privilege hour to deliver a speech calling for an investigation into the Sugar Regulatory Administration’s (SRA) unauthorized release of Sugar Order No. 4, which set an import quota for 300,000 metric tons of sugar into the country.

Sugar Order No. 4 was released on Aug. 10 without the authority of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., concurrent head of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

“The unauthorized release of Sugar Order No. 4 is absolutely reprehensible and must be investigated,” said Zubiri in his speech.

He also questioned the need to import another 300,000 metric tons of sugar, when internal documents from the SRA show that there are still about 127,000 metric tons of imported sugar languishing in warehouses.

Zubiri prefaced his discussion of Sugar Order No. 4 by detailing the implementation of a similar order released in February of this year. Sugar Order No. 3 sets an import quota for 200,000 metric tons of sugar, exclusively for industrial users. The order, Zubiri noted, was released right in the middle of harvest season.

The order was brought to court by various stakeholders in the sugar industry, and the Regional Trial Courts of Sagay City and Himamaylan City sided with the stakeholders. Both these courts issued temporary restraining orders and writs of preliminary injunction against the order.

Sugar importation, however, continued.

“They waited for an opinion from another government agency that said that the TRO (temporary restraining order) was only for Negros Occidental,” Zubiri said. “But there are many intelligent lawyers here that know that when a court releases a TRO, that should be for the whole country. Because the question of the court was to explain the importation for the whole country.”

Despite continued importation under Sugar Order No. 3, Zubiri revealed that only 45,680 metric tons of sugar have been withdrawn out of the 200,000 metric tons set by the order.

Citing internal documents from the SRA, Zubiri said that 172,016 metric tons of sugar have entered the country under Sugar Order No. 3. Twenty-seven thousand metric tons are still on the way in. That leaves a balance of 126,336 metric tons still in local warehouses.

“There are still 126,336 metric tons in warehouses, in 40-foot containers all over Metro Manila and with the other traders. They haven’t released it yet. Why don’t they release this sugar? Are they creating an artificial shortage?” he said in a mix of Filipino and English. “The bad thing is, they still want to enter, to import more. They want to continue importing when we still have stocks that they haven’t released?”

“We were not born yesterday. We know importation is a lucrative business,” he said, before laying out a tong-pats or corruption scheme that was divulged to him by industry insiders.

“[Profit] can go as low as P50 per bag to a high of P100 per bag,” he said. “Let me put it in proper context. Three hundred metric tons of sugar is six million bags. At P50, that is P300 million. At P100, that is an income of P600 million.”

Zubiri then went on to commend the resignation of Usec. Leocadio Sebastian and lawyer Roland Beltran, and called for the resignation of the rest of the officials involved in Sugar Order No. 4.

“Bakit hindi pa po sila nagreresign hanggang ngayon (Why haven’t they resigned until now)? Particularly the head of the SRA who has been embroiled in so many controversies, and yet, kapit-tuko pa siya diyan sa pwesto na ’yan (he’s still stuck in that post.) If we want an impartial investigation, they should resign immediately.”

He also called for a Blue Ribbon investigation into the matter, saying that “at the very least, there’s usurpation of authority. At the very least, there’s a violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.”

“Nagpapasalamat ako sa Pangulo na hindi niya tinuloy ang (I thank the President for terminating the) Sugar Order No. 4. Now let us investigate this, and the motives behind this,” he said.

Zubiri emphasized that about six million Filipinos—from sugar farmers to laborers to dependents—are reliant on the industry.

“Let us find ways to build a better, more responsive, and more inclusive SRA—hindi lang para sa sugar sector kundi para sa bawat Pilipino na araw-araw gumagamit ng asukal (not just for the sugar sector but for every Filipino who uses sugar every day).”