Sugar shortage a ‘conspiracy’

Unifed head accuses millers, traders, retailers of controlling supply

The leader of a sugar producers’ group has declared there is a “conspiracy between millers, traders, and retailers” to induce a shortage and drive up prices of the commodity in the country.

IN SEARCH OF THE ALL-IMPORTANT SUGAR. Government agents, mostly from the Bureau of Customs, inspect a warehouse in Quezon City in the course of their hot pursuit for smuggled sugar, including those in violation of the anti-hoarding law. Dexter Gatoc, PIAD

Manuel Lamata, United Sugar Producers Federation (Unifed) president, and Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization, Inc. (Philfoodex) chief Ruben See also stressed in a television interview that there was no shortage of sugar from local suppliers or in local markets—but it was just too pricey.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, Lamata and See also blamed the former leaders of the Sugar Regulatory Administration, particularly ex-Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, for the mess the industry is in.

Saying the conspirators created the crisis by controlling the timing of the release of stocks and importation of the sweetener, Lamata said: “It’s all about money. The more they hoard, constrict, the more money they make.”

“We don’t have any lack of sugar. There is none. Because you go out anywhere, you can buy, but it’s very, very high. So, there’s no shortage,” the Unifed chief said, echoing See’s earlier statement on the TV program.

He said his peers are very happy with the changes President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., as concurrent Agriculture Secretary and SRA board chairman, made in the agency, adding he’s confident it’s “back to normal” now.

Lamata added that the local sugar industry “was never against importation, it’s just the timing. Never, never import when it’s harvest season.”

That’s why he and See found it curious when Serafica signed Sugar Order No. 3 last February, which authorized the importation of 200,000 metric tons of sugar during the Philippines’ peak sugar milling season—thus depressing the prices that sugar planters could fetch for their crops.

“It is not Serafica’s call to declare a shortage when sugar mills are still in operation,” Lamata said in a statement six months ago. “It is appalling that the very agency that is supposed to protect us seems determined to kill the industry.”

See underscored the impact of the sugar importation mess on their industry, noting that sugar prices will go up. “That’s a big problem for our exporters,” he said.

“Sugar is an important input in our food manufacturing. If the price of sugar is more than ₱50, the exporters will not be very competitive.

For the domestic market, we cannot compete with these high (sugar) prices. Consumers would suffer,” See added.

Serafica, who has resigned, admitted in a Senate hearing last week that he did not consult the SRA board when he and his staff drafted the controversial Sugar Order No. 4, which supposedly green-lighted the importation of 300,000 metric tons of the substance, a move the President later blocked.

In other developments:

• Small supermarket owners said Saturday they cannot afford to lower the price of sugar to P70 per kilo, in response to the government’s appeal that major supermarkets have answered.

• Soaring sugar prices are also taking a toll on sweetened snacks and drinks that are often sold in roadside convenience (sari-sari) stores, a member of the Philippine Association of Stores and Carinderia Owners said.

• The Bureau of Customs on Saturday announced its agents have inspected a storage facility in Quezon City and found sacks of sugar worth more than P200 million.

• Authorities have found around 57,000 sacks of imported sugar from Thailand in a warehouse in Quezon City, as part of the government’s exercise of visitorial powers amid the rising prices of the commodity.

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