Dar junked sugar conversion

Former Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar had a hand in rejecting the conversion of the sugar allowed for export to the United States, a process that planters said should have solved the sugar shortage.

A 28 June letter from Sugar Regulatory Administration Administrator Herminigildo Serafica addressed to Central Azucarera de Bais and Central Azucarera de Antonio which the Daily Tribune obtained cited Dar as among those who rejected the reclassification of ‘A’ sugar earmarked for the US market to “B” for the domestic market.

“The SRA Sugar Board Chairperson and Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar together with the millers’ representative in the SRA board, Roland Beltran, agreed with the recommendation of the SRA management to deny your request to reclassify/convert your ‘A’ or US market sugar quedans to ‘B’ or domestic sugar quedans. The resolution was passed last 13 June 2022,” according to the letter.

It did not state any reason or explanation for the rejection of the sugar producers who are seeking to use the US quota allocation to fill supply for the domestic market to ease a shortage that had caused prices to shoot up.

The SRA rejection of the petition preceded Sugar Order 4 providing for 300,000 metric tons of importation bypassing President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s approval.

9,500 MT available

Since last January, sugar producers have been pressing the release to the domestic market of some 9,500 metric tons of sugar earmarked for the United States under the quota program but the Sugar Regulatory Administration board led by administrator Hermenegildo Serafica had stubbornly shot down the proposal.

Typhoon “Odette” hit the country on 16 December 2021 causing serious damage to sugarcane farms.

Planters wrote Serafica to tell him that recent developments including the impending shortage and high market prices “underscore the urgent need to tap available export sugars already in the country for domestic consumption.”

“Releasing the significant volume of accumulated export sugars from previous years of at least 9,500 metric tons for domestic consumption would alleviate the shortage while avoiding the logistical costs involved in the importation,” they explained.

The conversion of sugar for export should be given priority and that importation. while it being a regulatory tool to address a shortage, “can only be utilized as a last resort,” according to the letter.
On 17 February, another letter was issued by planters seeking the conversion of raw sugar for domestic consumption.

Around that time, the SRA was forced to suspend the sugar importation program as a result of a temporary restraining order issued by the Regional Trial Court of Negros Occidental.

The industry cited a statement of SRA Deputy Administrator Guillermo Tejida III, “confirming under oath” that the conversion of sugar stocks is “an SRA regulatory tool to address supply shortages and rising prices.”

On 2 March, sugar planters again wrote Serafica to underline that “with the import program having been enjoined by the Regional Trial Court of Negros Occidental, “there is absolutely no more excuse that you can cite not to convert our available export sugar.”

It said the immediate conversion of all available export sugars will allow the SRA to delay importations further so as to minimize the producers affected during the milling season.

Then on 12 April, producers again wrote Serafica reminding him of the 9,500 MT of raw sugar sitting inside warehouses which they said: “is just a matter of converting the huge stock of sugar to address the needs of the domestic market.”

The letter indicated that importation cannot be implemented “without first recalling all available/unshipped export sugars that can easily be converted to Class “B” for the domestic market.

Planters pointedly told Serafica that “to date, you cannot even cite any legal excuse on why you cannot convert our 9,500 MT of export sugar to Class B.”

“Addressing the sugar supply shortage through the conversion of our Class “A” and Class “D” raw sugar is not only feasible but dictated by your mandate “to ensure food security” and, before you resort to importation that will only benefit favored traders, please think of the local producers whose export sugars are trapped and have been rendered homeless because of your inaction.”

Failing to get Serafica’s response, the industry then, on 10 May, sent a letter to Darinforming him of the 9,500 MT of idle sugar stock.

“Mr. Serafica appears to have concealed from you the fact that there is over 9,500 MT of available Class ‘A’ export sugar that SRA can very well tap and reclassify as Class ‘B’ sugar to address the shortage situation,” according to the planters.

Undoing the wrong

“Simply put, this substantial volume of Class ‘A’ sugar remains trapped in the country and could not be withdrawn and sold to the domestic market, notwithstanding that Mr. Serafica and the SRA Board could easily authorize ut re-classification or conversion.”

The letter told Dar: “This is your opportunity to undo the wrong committed by Mr. Serafica and the SRA Board.”

The government’s tendency to import whenever there’s a shortage in the supply of a basic commodity had stunted the growth of local industries, according to Senator JV Ejercito.

In the sugar sector, a development program designed to revive the plantations have failed because of the importation habit, he said.

“I passed two laws strengthening our sugar industry. In 2015, one of the very first laws that I was able to pass was the Sugarcane Industry Development Act and the Anti-Agriculture Smuggling Law in 2016,” he explained.

Ejercito said he pushed for the twin measures since he knew that the sugar industry is suffering.

“SIDA was intended to revitalize and stimulate the industry not only in Negros but all sugarcane producing provinces,” the veteran legislator told Daily Tribune.

Ejercito added the law against smuggling was passed because illegal products entering the country were very rampant.

“With these two measures, the sugar industry had a chance of being revived but unfortunately the Sugar Regulatory Administration was issuing authority to import left and right.

“They are so used to importation right now that the local industry suffered,” Ejercito said.

Ejercito said: “I am very frustrated as one of the authors of SIDA and the principal author of the anti-agricultural smuggling act.”

The senator lamented that both laws in tandem could have helped revitalize the sugarcane industry which had deteriorated due to the rash of imports.

BoC officials relieved

Meantime, the Bureau of Customs has relieved six officials from the Port of Subic over the alleged smuggling of sugar, an official said on Wednesday.

The recall, according to BoC Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz, is a standard procedure while an investigation is being conducted on the attempt to smuggle some 140,000 bags of imported sugar from Thailand equivalent to 7,000 metric tons.

Ordered relieved were Maritess Theodossis Martin, district collector; Maita Sering Acevedo, deputy collector for assessment; Giovanni Ferdinand Aguillon Leynes, deputy collector for operations; Belinda Fernando Lim, chief of assessment division; Vincent Mark Solamin Malasmas, Enforcement Security Service commander; and Justice Roman Silvoza Geli, CIIS supervisor.

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