Jail time for saboteurs

Local sugar industry leaders have pointed to a syndicate composed of the recently resigned Department of Agriculture and Sugar Regulatory Administration officials, along with powerful business interests, as being behind the foiled attempt to flood the market with imported sugar.

It is Sebastian, Serafica and the miller-traders who conspired to draft Sugar Order 4 that sought the importation of 300,000 metric tons of raw and refined sugar, according to industry stakeholders.

Referred to are resigned DA undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian and SRA chief Hermenegildo Serafica.

The importation plan caused an uproar in the local industry as planters said they are capable of providing the supply shortfall that can be addressed immediately through the reclassification for domestic consumption of some 9,965 MT of sugar earmarked for the annual United States quota program.

SO 4 was recalled, since the Palace said President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. did not authorize it. SO 4 was signed “for” Mr. Marcos by Sebastian.

Serafica evaded consulting with sugar planters regarding the importation plan, and said the volume of imports under SO 4 was fixed based on SRA’s “data” that obviously fit the fabricated shortage.

United Sugar Producers Federation president Manuel Lamata disputed Serafica, saying that a survey, which the industry has been asking SRA to conduct, was needed to assess the sugar inventory “as done in past administrations at the SRA.”

The industry leader said both officials should be charged by the government for economic sabotage.

Both can be liable for violation of Republic Act 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, which provided for the protection and promotion of the productivity of the agriculture sector and farmers.

The law said that economic sabotage is present when agricultural products are brought in the country to the detriment of farmers and consumers.

Saboteurs manipulate the supply and demand, and thus influence prices, while at the same time, providing the justifications to import.

Lamata said Serafica went against the holding of surveys, which were usually done periodically “before, during and after” milling in past SRA administrations to determine supply and the need to import.

The call for a new survey was ignored to evade the ready solution, which was the conversion of the US quota allocation.

The conversion petition and the proposed survey were both ignored by Serafica and the SRA Board and, incidentally, former Agriculture secretary William Dar.

Worse, Lamata said SRA officials namedropped Mr. Marcos for them to go along with the importation plan.

“We were made to believe that the President ordered the importation, it being (meant to address) a ‘national emergency’.”

Planters agreed to the importation, but only for “refined” sugar that the industrial users needed.

What was contained in SO 4 was the importation of 150,000 MT each for refined and brown sugar.

Lamata said traders are hoarding sugar to manipulate the market as if there was a shortage.

The attempt to ram through SO 4 was the result of an opportunity that presented itself for public officials, who should have been trusted to look after the welfare of the industry and big business, to pull a fast one on the President.

It’s a matter of greed and the use of government to gain easy money as the planters attested to.

Putting those responsible for SO 4 behind bars will be the administration’s perfect reminder against corrupt practices in government.

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