Shame on sugar hoarders

This sugar issue leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Days following the shocking revelation of an agency official signing a sugar importation order without the President’s nod, the country is still grappling with the implications it left in its wake.

At this point, we ask: is there a shortage or not?

Warehouse raids have revealed no such shortage exists.

In fact, industry stakeholders have lashed out at the government’s alleged “lack of consultation” before Sugar Order 4 was signed. That document was soundly rejected by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., which led to a series of apologies and resignations from key officials in the Sugar Regulatory Administration.

This was quickly followed by the President saying perhaps the importation of 300,000 tons of sugar is not necessary — only 150,000 tons may be needed.

On the matter of who overstepped or abused their position, Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez was first demonized and then absolved.

No less than Senate President Miguel Zubiri, who, at first, flatly derided the reasons being given with a “not born yesterday” comment, this week told media that ES Vic could not have had a hand in the “illegal order” issue because “he was the one who took it to the President and told the President about this particular plan that they already signed an importation order without the President’s approval.

Siya ang nagsumbong kay Presidente.”

Rodriguez is credited for leading the recent raids that uncovered “a sea of sugar” and the fact that “there was still a reserve of 127,000 tons of sugar in warehouses,” as claimed by SRA insiders.

No amount of sugar could sweeten the matter, however, as more layers were revealed.

In reports, Ruben See, president of the Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization Inc., spoke at the Senate’s first hearing on the sugar mess on Tuesday that their group — a major stakeholder in sugar importation — was not consulted before SO 4 came out. This was not what former Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian told the panel earlier.

It was Sebastian who signed the order on behalf of the President.

Business observers note that the “sugar shortage” that was used as a reason for the controversial import order is not true, as supported by See’s statement that the problem is not supply, but cost.

Prices of sugar have skyrocketed in the market, while local producers have had to be content with lower prices because of imports from other countries.

So why would a giant like Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Inc. shut down operations of some of its bottling plants allegedly due to a sugar supply shortage?

Again, is there a shortage or not?

Days ago, Palace had denied there is a shortage, saying it is “artificial” — the result of “hoarding by unscrupulous traders” ostensibly to be able to raise prices in the market.

The rash of raids conducted by government operatives revealed contraband — smuggled sugar and other goods that just should get the Marcos administration stepping up its actions against profiteers.

At a time like this, when the pandemic had practically brought many businesses and breadwinners to their knees because of the significant pause in economic activity, these crooks out for dirty money should be brought out to justice.

At a time like this, when the Russian attacks on Ukraine had brought more challenges to world economies because of its effects on fuel supply and prices, food supply, and prices, among others, our government should be able to focus on development and growth aside from running after lawbreakers and those who are protecting them.

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