SRA-millers mafia long held sway

Sugar planters said the collusion between the Sugar Regulatory Administration and local millers and traders has been going on for years resulting in losses to the government and damages to the market.

United Sugar Producers Federation president Manuel Lamata cited the recent inquiry at the Senate on Sugar Order 4 where SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica was being earnestly defended by sugar trader and miller Philippine Sugar Millers Association chairperson Pablo Lobregat.

“They were sitting side by side and Lobregat was defending Serafica and Sugar Order 4 which was already classified as illegal and he claimed there was really a shortage,” according to Lamata.

Serafica along with two other officials resigned over the scandal involving SO 4 which the Palace admitted to being illegal since it bypassed President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos.

Lobregat said the SO 4 controversy was the result of a misunderstanding among agencies including SRA, the Department of Agriculture, and the Office of the President.

Traders, Lamata said, rake in huge profits from mandated importation programs.

Cheap sugar is bought from abroad such as in Thailand and traders make a net profit of P50 to P100 for each 1 kilogram of sugar.

Several sweet ways

Aside from sugar imports, pre-mix sugar concentrates or flavored juices are brought into the country by influential traders.

Pre-mix sugar which is assessed 3 percent tariff compared to 65 percent for imported raw sugar, has become the favorite of big industrial and commercial users.

Technical smuggling of pre-mix sugar also contributes to the unfair competition in the local market which competes with local production.

Pre-mix sugar is also a reason for the shortage to be a mere myth.

“Pre-mix sugar is being unloaded in huge crates, pressing sugar prices down. This is causing financial blight to planters and millers,” Lamata said.

Lobregat, however, defended importation saying it is not resorted to in making money.

“Some of those who are feeling the effects of the shortage are well-known companies with strict governance rules,” according to Lobregat.

Nonetheless, Lamata said local producers are capable of meeting the demand of about 2 million metric tons in the run-up to the Christmas season.

“I can guarantee that there will be no sugar deficit. Since the weather is holding up, we will be able to hit 2 million metric tons,” Lamata said.

He added the discovery of more than 400,000 bags of sugar in warehouses during the simultaneous raids done throughout the country belied the shortage claim.

“The stocks recently raided only proves that Serafica is lying on the sugar shortage,” Lamata said.

“Serafica and millers have been saying that we will have a sugar deficit by end of August, but authorities keep on discovering thousands of stocks in various warehouses,” he added.

Meanwhile, planters groups said that with the coming harvest season from October to November, the domestic demand will be covered along with a standby 9,965 metric tons earmarked for the annual US quota which can be converted for domestic use.

A high-ranking official of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines maintained that the market has a shortage.

Lamata earlier said bottlers are drumbeating the shortage narrative to allow them to access cheap Thailand sugar.

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