All palusot

At the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on Tuesday, a made-up scenario in the sugar sector was revealed involving those seeking to exploit their position in government and their cohorts in the private sector.

Taken together, the discovery all over, of warehouses overflowing with hoarded sugar and the supposed urgent situation of a supply shortfall primarily among industrial users proved to have been merely cooked up.

Nonetheless, the shortage became the basis of the upsized 300,000 metric tons import proposal under Sugar Order No. 4.

The money-making script was uncovered during Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri’s grilling of Sugar Regulatory Administration officials on the basis of the 300,000-MT sugar import proposal and the rush in the release of SO 4.

The order was recalled since the Palace said President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos did not authorize it. SO 4 was signed “for” Mr. Marcos by resigned Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian.

Pointed out by the senators during the hearing was SO 4’s rush, usurpation of the authority of the President and the huge quantity of imports involved.

Former SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, who had evaded consulting with the planters, told the Senate panel that the number of imports in SO 4 was based on data since SRA is the repository of all records of production of all mills and refineries in the country.

Serafica’s claim was refuted by United Sugar Producers Federation President Manuel Lamata who said that the planters’ group had repeatedly sought the conduct of an SRA survey to accurately determine if there was a supply shortage before deciding to import.

“I wrote (Serafica) four, five times to do a national survey [to accurately assess the sugar inventory] as done in past administrations at the SRA,” he said.

Lamata added that the proposal for the survey was ignored. “Previously, such surveys were done periodically ‘before, during and after milling’,” he added.

Serafica also ignored proposals of the producers to divert nearly 10,000 MT of sugar earmarked for the US market through the quota scheme, by a conversion process to augment local supply and thus ease a looming shortage

The planters’ group head pointed out that if importation is allowed, it should directly go to industrial users.

When S0 4 was crafted, sugar producers were consulted only to get their approval for the importation plan.

Serafica said during the Senate probe that at least five sugar federations were consulted and agreed to the recommendation to import sugar — a consent that became the basis for SO 4.

Lamata, however, said they were led to believe that it was President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos who was pushing for the importation program.

Thus, planters signed their assent but stressed that what they signed for was “all refined,” and not brown sugar.

It turned out that the Chief Executive was not privy to what was happening in SRA’s turf. Later on, Mr. Marcos overturned SO 4.

The entire racket, from the time, that local sugar stocks intended for the US program were refused to beef up local supply up to the period that sugar prices rocketed and big industrial users complained supply is running out were all aligned towards creating a condition that makes importation a necessity.

An emergency situation, it appears, was induced by officials who are quick in finding an opportunity to make a fast buck while a new administration has yet to find its firm footing.

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