'Acted with haste': Panganiban responds to allegations of sugar importation anomalies

Raffy Cabristante, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 22 2023 07:58 PM | Updated as of Feb 23 2023 03:32 AM

Store workers attend to customers buying light brown sugar at their stall in Bagong Silang public market in North Caloocan on January 19, 2023. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Store workers attend to customers buying light brown sugar at their stall in Bagong Silang public market in North Caloocan on January 19, 2023. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) — Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban on Wednesday said he was acting "with haste" when he ordered the importation of over 200 containers of sugar ahead of the publication of Sugar Order No. 6.

In a press conference Wednesday, Panganiban responded to claims made by Sen. Risa Hontiveros of an alleged "state-sanctioned smuggling" of sugar.

The DA earlier today said it was validating claims of irregularities in the recently approved sugar importation order after Hontiveros' exposé.

Panganiban however said that he interpreted a memorandum issued by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin "as an approval to proceed with the importation," citing "the urgency of the situation" to address inflation.

"The directive of the Executive Secretary to me was a manifestation that that directive is already a sugar order," he said.

"I instructed capable and accredited companies to proceed with the importation of sugar, provided that they agree to reduce the prices of sugar, sell the commodity in a price that is commercially acceptable in the market, and that they will shoulder the cost of warehousing," he added.

Hontiveros earlier named the alleged importers as All Asian Countertrade, Sucden Philippines Inc., and Edison Lee Marketing Corporation.

"I consider them as the most capable importers that we have," Panganiban further said.

He also noted that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the concurrent Agriculture Secretary, was "aware" of the issue, and that he was "properly informed" when the sugar arrived on Feb. 9.

A copy of Bersamin's order given to reporters showed that the Executive Secretary directed the Department of Agriculture (DA) to import 450,000 metric tons of sugar for 2023.

Of the amount, 100,000 MT would be classified as domestic sugar, and another 350,000 MT would be labeled as reserved sugar that would be made available to markets.

Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News
Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News

For his part, Undersecretary Roy Cervantes of the Office of the Executive Secretary said he saw nothing wrong from the importation of sugar upon Bersamin's orders, because their office had already been processing a sugar order signed by members of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).

On Tuesday, Hontiveros bared the supposedly questionable entry of imported sugar from Thailand even before the scheduled publication of Sugar Order No. 6 last Feb. 15.

The order would have taken effect on Feb. 18, three days after its publication, with bidding to happen between Feb. 19 and 23 and contract awarding set from Feb. 24 to 28. 

The actual importation of sugar was scheduled on Mar. 1, Hontiveros said.

"We are closely coordinating with the SRA (Sugar Regulatory Administration) to validate this and we will find out in the coming days," she said, maintaining that her department was not tolerating any form of smuggling.

On Wednesday, Hontiveros urged Bersamin and Marcos to speak up on the issue.

"Kung magsasalita si Presidente sa isyung ito, kung magsalita si ES sa isyung ito, ay makatutulong na linawin yung nangyari na at baka makatulong din na wag nang maulit ung ganitong mga pangyayari moving forward,” Hontiveros said.

DA spokesperson Kristine Evangelista earlier said they were verifying the senator's allegations. 

—With a report from Pia Gutierrez and Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News


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