Planters: ‘Lobregat must explain’

Negros sugar planters are demanding an explanation from Pablo Lobregat, chairman of the Philippine Sugar Millers Association, on the more than 400,000 bags of sugar found in a Bukidnon warehouse that he owns.

The Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines with agents of the Bureau of Customs swooped down on the Lobregat facility.

Discovered was a large sugar stash inside Crystal Sugar Milling Company, which Lobregat owns, last Tuesday — a day after the Senate held an inquiry into the Sugar Order 4 mess.

The Office of the Press Secretary, on Wednesday, said the agents’ action in Maramag, Bukidnon was a raid versus hoarders ordered by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos.

A plantation owner said the 400,000 bags of 50 kilos each should be equivalent to 20 metric tons.

SO 4 provided for the importation of 300,000 MT of sugar but President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos stopped.its implementation.

“He has to explain, is that for home consumption?” the Daily Tribune source said referring to Lobregat.

“Is he going to use all of that sugar for his household?”

More revelations at Senate

According to the source, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has summoned Lobregat to explain the purpose of the mountain of sugar found inside his Bukidnon warehouse.

During the Senate hearing, SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica sat beside “big-time sugar miller and trader” who is Lobregat.

Lobregat then presented a chart purportedly showing a shortage in the supply of sugar.

Miller-traders and the SRA are in cahoots since, in the hearing, Lobregat was vigorously defending Serafica and the “illegal” Sugar Order 4, the industry source said.

Thereafter, Lobregat made a determined argument supporting the existence of a supply shortage while defending Serafica and the likewise resigned Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian.

“Why is there a need to withhold the information about the 400,000 bags?” the source said as he indicated that Lobregat made no mention of the huge stock of sugar inside his warehouse during the probe where the dominant topic was the shortage in the commodity.

“That is a significant volume of sugar that the use of which the public should know,” another stakeholder in the local industry said.

“Imagine the photographs presented by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri during the hearing that caused his temper to flare up, the total was just 60,000 bags,” according to the source.

The inspection of Lobregat’s warehouse revealed 466,142 sacks of sugar.

“The question that should be asked is why was there no disclosure. He could have said in the hearing that such a huge volume of sugar is stored in his warehouse,” according to the industry player.

In the Senate hearing, Lobregat, in support of Serafica, said the market has run out of supply and that a shortage exists.

“Nondisclosure of his huge sugar stockpile means something is wrong,” the source said.

Crystal Sugar Milling resident manager Javier Sagarbarria denied accusations of hoarding as he contended that most of the stocks found inside the warehouse had been sold “but were not yet withdrawn.”

The huge stash, however, may have exceeded the 50 percent threshold making these being illegally stored. Republic Act 7581 or An Act Providing Protection to Consumers stated hoarding occurs when “a person has stocks of any basic necessity or prime commodity fifty percent higher than his usual inventory and unreasonably limits, refuses or fails to sell the same to the general public at the time of discovery of the excess.” The law included sugar as a basic necessity.

Sagarbarria said Crystal Sugar also has a milling plant to justify the huge sugar stock in its warehouse.

“We are a milling company, not a marketing firm. Naturally, we produce millions of sacks a year,” he said.

He said the total sugar production of Crystal Sugar was divided between farmers and planters at 66 percent and the rest for the company.

He said when the inspection happened late Tuesday, they had in storage 264,000 bags that he claimed are owned by farmers and planters.

Traders have 60 days to withdraw their stocks from the time of purchase, after which they will charge a storage fee, he added.

“We do not have control as to whom the farmers would like to sell their sugar. We only control what is our share,” he said.

He claimed shipments of sugar are strictly monitored by the SRA, which posted representatives outside their warehouses, which is a common practice.

“A single infraction can close our company forever. We cannot take that risk,” he said.

Crystal Sugar, he added, only produces brown sugar, although it is planning to go into refined sugar production.

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