Sugar mess: Beltran quits

Lawyer Roland Beltran became the second government official to quit Monday as calls for the resignation of those involved in the botched importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar snowballed.

Beltran, one of four signatories of the controversial memorandum, cited health reasons in his letter to Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez.

“In any event, let me interject at the outset that my vote therein was conditional ‘subject to compliance of the provision of laws, rules and regulations, and the internal processes of SRA,’” Beltran said in his resignation letter.

“The action is thus withdrawn and negated due to non-compliance of the conditions set forth therein.”

Beltran’s resignation came three days after Undersecretary Lecadio Sebastian quit his post.

Senate questions motive

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri questioned the motive behind the supposed importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar into the country.

In his privilege speech, Zubiri said there are still about 127,000 metric tons of imported sugar in warehouses, which were part of the import order through Sugar Order No. 3.

Citing internal documents from the SRA, he revealed that out of the 200,000 metric tons set by the order, only 45,680 metric tons of sugar have been withdrawn.

“We still have 126,336 metric tons in our warehouses, in 40-foot containers all over Metro Manila and with the other traders. Why are they not releasing it?” he asked.

“Why are they not releasing this sugar? Are they creating an artificial shortage? What is even worse here, they still want to import more,” he added.

The Senate chief is referring to Sugar Order No. 4 which was released on 10 August without the authority of Marcos, concurrent head of the Department of Agriculture.

“The unauthorized release of Sugar Order 4 is absolutely reprehensible and must be investigated,” Zubiri said.

The lawmaker also revealed that patong divulged to him by industry insiders, can go from as low as P50 per bag to P100 per bag.

“They want to continue importing when we still have stocks that they haven’t released?” 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,” he added.

More resignations urged

On Monday, two House of Representatives committees held a joint briefing in which lawmakers urged Sugar Regulatory Administration officials to resign as a matter of delicadeza.

The calls were directed to SRA board vice-chairperson Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica and Aurelio Valderrama Jr., the planters’ representative to the board.

The 90-minute briefing was held jointly by the Good Governance and Public Accountability led by Rep. Florida Robes, and Agriculture and Food chaired by Rep. Mark Enverga.

Among those who led the call were representatives Juliet Marie Ferrer and France Castro.

“Since we are going to investigate, maybe out of ‘delicadeza,’ all those involved should submit their courtesy resignations,” Castro said.

Ferrer, who represents Negros Occidental, one of the country’s sugar-producing provinces, echoed Castro’s sentiment.

“I know this is not yet an investigation and this is just a briefing, but after hearing from those resource persons, there has been a problem on the issuance of Sugar Order No. 4,” Ferrer said. “Now, I ask, why are the others not resigned as a matter of ‘delicadeza?’”

SRA officials warned

Some lawmakers warned SRA officials and other resource persons for failing to appear in person for the briefing.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said he noticed that engineer HermenegildoSerafica attended the briefing via Zoom from his office.

“Reporting for Congress is much more important considering that we are having our duty in aid of legislation pursuant to the constitution. And therefore, I would move that all resource persons be directed to appear personally in our hearing next Thursday unless they can show proof medical proof that they cannot go out of their house,” the 72-year-old solon pointed out.

Abono Partylist Rep. Robert Raymund Estrella demanded that all resource persons bring necessary documents that might be used to illustrate the state of the nation’s sugar sector and proof of sugar importation.

Robes warned that those who will not attend the hearing on Thursday may be cited in contempt.

Sebastian airs side

During the hearing, Sebastian explained that he signed the controversial memorandum because of a clear indication of the rapidly diminishing supply of sugar.

“Current supply is projected to run out in August 2022 and end of craft year 2021-2022,” he stressed.

Citing the Philippine Statistics Authority, the National Economic Development Authority, and United States Department of Agriculture, Sebastian said from 2015 to 2019, the average annual supply shortage of sugar was a little more than 530,000 MT comprising an average annual deficit of 203,000 MT for raw sugar and 332,000 MT for refined sugar.

“I cannot stand watching Filipino suffer from high local prices of sugar that are hurting Filipino consumers. The food and beverage manufacturing sub-sectors comprise 50 percent of domestic supply utilization,” he said.

“However, I immediately resigned what I knew the President disapproved by action. It has been clear that my actions were not it keeping the administration’s desired direction for the sugar industry.”

Importation not discounted

While asserting that there is no sugar supply shortage locally, Marcos disclosed the possibility of importing up to 150,000 metric tons of the sweetener by October.

“There is a possibility that by October, our supply in the Philippines will run out. We might need to import, but only a few, not as much as the (metric) 300,000 tons they said before.

Perhaps 150,000 (metric) tons would be good for the entire year,” Marcos said in Filipino in his weekly video blog published on Sunday evening.

Marcos stressed the need to keeping sugar imports to the barest minimum as it would impact locally produced ones.

“I saw that there is enough supply in the Philippines. So, I said, why don’t we prioritize that because that is from the Philippines, and we have also imported something that is now in inventory? So, before we import more sugar, we should use up the supply here first,” he said.

The Chief Executive admitted that while he is averse to importation, it would keep local prices of sugar to acceptable levels.

“The really difficult thing here is that we do not want to import. But if the supply of food is not enough, we will be forced to import because if we do not import and the supply is low, the prices will increase. We cannot do that to the people,” he explained.


The President wants the country to become “self-sufficient with food” by prioritizing local production over the importation of agricultural products.

It is one of the “three dreams” that he has as the nation’s leader, he said, noting that the others are “to ensure sustainable livelihood for farmers and affordable food for all Filipinos.”

“My dream is simple, our farmers must have a profitable livelihood so that the next generations will be encouraged to continue this industry,” Marcos said.

“Second, that we have food security and as much as possible, not depend on other countries.

“And third, that food would be affordable to everyone. My dream is that there will be no more hungry Filipinos. And I am sure that is the dream of each of us,” he added.

Panganiban named to DA

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has designated former Agriculture chief Domingo Panganiban as agriculture undersecretary.

“We congratulate Mr. Domingo F. Panganiban who was sworn in as Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture on 12 August,” Marcos announced in a social media post.

“It is an honor to work with our experts in meeting the needs of our people, especially in the agricultural sector.”

Panganiban was former DA secretary in 2001 under President Joseph Estrada and in 2005 under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.


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