SRA chief quits over sugar import mess

(UPDATE) SUGAR Regulatory Administration (SRA) Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica has resigned from his post after a controversial order to import 300,000 metric tons of sugar was made to avert a supposedly looming shortage in the country.

SUGAR Regulatory Administration (SRA) head Hermenegildo Serafica. Photo from SRA website

SUGAR Regulatory Administration (SRA) head Hermenegildo Serafica. Photo from SRA website

In his letter to Serafica, Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez said President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has accepted his resignation “effective immediately.”

“This refers to your letter dated August 10, 2022 tendering your resignation as administrator of the Sugar Regulatory Administration. On behalf of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., I wish to inform you that your resignation has been accepted, effective immediately,” Rodriguez said.

Serafica is the third official to quit his post in the aftermath of the disputed sugar importation order after Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian and Roland Beltran, an SRA board member.

This began last week when the SRA released Sugar Order (SO) 4, authorizing the importation of 300,000 MT of sugar, only six months after the importation of 200,000 MT tons of sugar for beverage makers.

SO 4, which was described by Malacañang as “illegal,” was signed by Sebastian in lieu of Marcos, who is concurrent Agriculture secretary and SRA board chairman.

The order was also signed by Serafica as SRA board vice chairman, Beltran as sugar millers' representative, and planters' representative Aurelio Valderrama Jr., whom the Chief Executive appointed only days before the SO 4 was released on August 8.

On the same day, Press Secretary Rose Beatrix “Trixie” Cruz-Angeles announced that the President rejected the importation of 300,000 MT of sugar and that he, as SRA board chairman, never convened the board to approve SO 4.

The issuance of the importation order is being investigated by one of Rodriguez's staff, Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs Richard Palpal-Latoc.

Data from the Department of Agriculture showed the retail price of refined sugar has skyrocketed to P100/kilo, P75/kilo of washed sugar, and P70 for brown sugar in Metro Manila.

Industry players said if the government were to consider importation for industrial use, it must act now to secure supply from global sugar exporters since they may allocate their produce to other markets.

Go after hoarders

Meanwhile, Sen. Mary Grace Poe raised the need to identify the companies and individuals allegedly involved in the hoarding of sugar — reportedly as much as over 100,000 MT — since they could be part of a syndicate.

The senator also on Monday said the full force of the law must be brought upon all sugar hoarders creating an artificial shortage and jacking up the price of the commodity in the country.

Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, in a privileged speech on the same day, sought an investigation of recently exposed irregularities at the SRA and asked its high-ranking officials to resign.

Poe said all government officials and employees who make possible all undue importations that cause the people to suffer must be held accountable.

She noted that sugar brought in under an import permit is hoarded by unscrupulous groups, to be sold only when the market price becomes high.

“This is how it's happening: They have all the sugar in their warehouse but they're hoarding it,” the chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs said.

“And then they ask for another permit to import so that when the price goes up obviously because of the initial hoarding, they have the supply and they're going to sell it at that higher amount,” Poe said.

Zubiri said the recent sugar importation fiasco “has put a spotlight not only on the SRA's blatant disregard for the local sugar industry, but also on its bald-faced attempts to usurp authority.”

“Thus, I ask my colleagues in the Senate, particularly the blue ribbon committee, to open an investigation and get to the bottom of this shameful incident, and see whether cases need to be filed against the persons involved. Let us investigate this, and let us find ways to build a better, more responsive and more inclusive SRA,” he added.

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