Millers’ head owns 300K import plan

Sugar millers admitted that the proposed 300,000 metric tons of sugar that were targeted for importation came from their proposal amid the allegations of complicity between them and the Sugar Regulatory Administration in drafting the illegal Sugar Order 4.

Philippine Sugar Millers Association Incorporated President Pablo Lobregat, on questioning of Senator Risa Hontiveros in a public hearing on Tuesday, recalled stakeholders were consulted by the SRA before the issuance of SO 4.

“I do not remember exactly or we do not know because of what the other consulted party said but I remember the PSMA did recommend 300,000 (metric tons) and I think I heard earlier that most stakeholders that were consulted more or less gave the same figure but not too far from there,” according to the businessman.

A sugar planter said, “a fish is caught by its mouth”. The possible collusion exists with big sugar users such as bottlers since what was sought is the importation of raw sugar.

“They import raw sugar at very cheap prices. When brown sugar is refined, millers again earn. When sugar is sold to bottlers, they generate income again,” according to a planter.

Moreover, he termed hoarding and smuggling as “symptoms” of a supply deficit.

Lobregat, likewise, said in the recommendation for SO 4, the PSMA relied “on data that is coming from SRA.”

“There is a production bulletin, we also consult our members for example, throughout the year, at the beginning of the year, in the middle of the year, for example, we ask our planters the number of 50 kilo bags that they can get in a hectare,” Lobregat said.

He added that during typhoon “Odette,” the rainfall in sugar planting provinces was unabated.

“These are things that go into our recommendation and you can actually foresee early on if you are really going to get a good crop or a better crop or a bad crop and we are hoping that the weather would dry up towards the end and we did not see any improvement” he added.

SO 4 delayed imports

The importation process has been delayed by the SO 4 scandal, according to the PSMA leader.

Sugar Order 3 was crafted early on in January after “Odette” because we saw prices starting to rise especially on refined sugar, Lobregat said.

He claimed that a reason for retail prices to go up was the delay caused by the temporary restraining order issued in Negros.

Refined sugar under SO 3 scheduled to come in March only arrived practically, in May.

Elections last May also caused paralysis in most government agencies until the new administration settled down.

“This is what I said in Congress. These delays added up and now they are still crafting Sugar Order 2, I think for this year and this has all caused prices to remain high,” he noted.

After SO 4 was recalled with the signature by Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian on behalf of the President, the Palace allowed a 150,000 MT importation which Lobregat said was “better than nothing.”

On the raids conducted on warehouses in the country, Lobregat maintained that “Malacañang is being misled.”

Among the warehouses inspected was Lobregat’s facility in Bukidnon which yielded 446,000 bags of sugar.

“It seems to many that it was an enormous amount of sugar. But what I can say is number one, this is all sugar produced in Bukidnon. Last year, Bukidnon in our mills, we produced close to 3 million tons, we produced close to 3 million bags and 440,000 bags represents represent only 15 percent of our products so if you ask us, were we hoarding? Well, we’re down to the last 15 percent and we will only start milling in November. This will only last us about 45 days,” Lobregat added.

“Yeah right, there is a saying: Tell it to the Marines,” Daily Tribune’s industry sources indicated.

He said those stocks must be waiting to be sent to a refinery.

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