More heads to roll?

As promised by the Palace, two heads have already rolled over a foiled attempt to illegally import 300,000 metric tons of sugar through Sugar Order 4 of the Sugar Regulatory Administration signed “for” or on behalf of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. by resigned Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian.

Sebastian had taken full responsibility for signing SO 4, which the President, through his spokesperson Trixie Cruz-Angeles, said was done without his imprimatur as he did not even order the convening of the SRA Board as concurrent DA Secretary.

Following Sebastian out of SRA Sunday was Atty. Roland Beltran, the millers’ representative on the SRA Board. There are those who think that Sebastian’s and Beltran’s were offered as sacrificial heads to roll to spare Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez’s own.

Cruz-Angeles was, however, quick to exculpate Rodriguez by saying that what Rodriguez told the SRA Board was to “create an importation plan” and not to sign that illegal resolution.

Traditionally, the Executive Secretary, since the position’s reestablishment in 1987 during the Cory Aquino administration, has been signing for or on behalf of the President. Thus, it’s odd for someone like Sebastian, a mere undersecretary, to be signing for President Marcos, unless somebody of a higher position gave him the signal to do so.

Or maybe Sebastian just got his signals mixed, something that’s hard to fathom considering the testimonials vouching for his integrity.

Meanwhile, Senator Imee Marcos has been shouting herself hoarse that the DA needs to be purged of smugglers and importers who have been lording it over the department. The other day, the senator expressed doubts there are actual shortages not only of sugar, but also of other agricultural products, like onions.

The senator’s line of thinking is shared by many who say that it is possible sugar supplies are being hoarded to jack up prices, so the importers and the hoarders can continue making windfalls.

But is there really a sugar shortage that would necessitate further importations after SRA issued SO 3 in February for 200,000 metric tons of imported sugar, which started arriving last May and by July and have already reached 90 percent of the order volume?

The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. has said this week that sugar prices should go down by September as local sugarcane milling operations will begin next week. It said the 200,000 metric tons imported under SO 3 could already ease supply woes and tame pricing.

The President himself said in the aftermath of Sebastian’s brouhaha that the country may, after all, import more sugar as needed, maybe 150,000 metric tons or half of the 300,000 metric tons under the “illegal” SO 4.

For those who have dirty minds, the President’s pronouncement may come off as a justification for Rodriguez asking the SRA to come up with a “sugar importation plan.” But that’s for those who have (wild?) imaginations, okay?

As with SO 3 and a forthcoming SO 4 — if the latter is signed by the President as SRA Board chairperson — typhoon “Odette” reducing local sugar production for the 2021-2022 cycle may still hold water as cover for importations. That is, if we will take SRA statistics hook, line and sinker.

Still, going by an international third-party trade group —, India’s largest news and information portal for sugar and allied industries — the Philippines has really gone years ago from a sugar-exporting economy to one that needs to import the sweetener due to diminishing hectarage allocated to planting sugarcane, among other related reasons.

For 2017-2018, total hectares planted with sugarcane stood at 418,215 with hectarage tracking a downward path year-on-year to only 397,524 hectares in 2021-2021. For 2017-2018, sugarcane milled stood at 23,860,924 metric tons and raw sugar production was at 2.08 million metric tons; while for 2021-2022, sugarcane milled naturally dropped to 20,802,429, with raw sugar production at 1.79 million MT.

If we take SRA’s own figures cited in SO 3, the country needed to import 200,000 metric tons to compensate for the expected fall in local production for 2021-2022 from 2.099 million MT to 2.072 million MT, just because of “Odette” and not because of shrinking hectarage planted to sugarcane.

Local demand for sugar, according to ChiniMandi, hovers just below 2.5 million MT. So, there lies the shortfall, even without “Odette.”

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