MANILA (UPDATED) — The proposal to import around 150,000 metric tons of sugar in the country was agreed upon during President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.'s meeting with stakeholders, Malacañang said Thursday.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the proposed sugar imports would be needed by industry players in commercial quantities.
Asked if the Palace confirms the agreement to import 150,000 metric tons of sugar, she said, "Iyan po ang proposed na quantity for importation gawa nga ng pangangailangan ng mga industrials na tinatawag ng ating Pangulo."
"Some jobs are dependent on their continued production. So, yes po, kino-confirm natin na iyon ang proposed amount – 150,000 metric tons," she added.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Wednesday night said during Marcos' consultation with farmers, millers, sugar workers, and refiners in Malacañang, they reached a "consensus" to import 150,000 metric tons of sugar based on "data on the remaining demand."
This is half of what the Sugar Regulatory Administration's (SRA) canceled resolution that aimed to import around 300,000 metric tons, an idea that Marcos disapproved.
The "illegal" approval led to the resignation of 3 key officials from the SRA in the past week. They are currently being investigated.
"There were other initiatives recommended to the President to ease the increase of sugar prices but we will let the President make the announcement at the proper time," said Zubiri in a Facebook post.
"What is important is that all the stakeholders came together to propose concrete short term and long term solutions on the sugar situation. Looking for the 'sweet spot; between producers and consumers," he added.
Cruz-Angeles said there was no information yet regarding when this would be imported.
Marcos, during his vlog over the weekend, said government plans to start sugar imports by October to keep prices steady.
In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Zubiri said it was Marcos who sought a meeting with stakeholders of the local industry on Wednesday.
"Ang hiningi nya (Marcos) 'yung mga information na kailangan nya, paramaka-desisyon sila kung may kulang ba ng asukal sa bansa, meron ba tayong sapat na suplay at kung gaano kalaki ang demand," Zubiri said in a phone interview on Thursday.
The importation of 150,000 tons may start "before the milling starts fully" in October to help industrial users who need that sugar, he added.
The group's main recommendation to the President, he said, was to allow industrial and users to now directly import sugar, instead of the current system that solely authorizes the SRA to do such task.
"Kasi ang nangyayari ngayon, kung merong allocation ang isang industrial user, hindi lahat ibinibigay sa industrial user," Zubiri said.
Such situation gives no option to the industrial user to buy sugar "outside" at a higher price, the senator said.
Portion of these imports also land in the hands of unscrupulous traders who sell the commodity at a higher price.
Zubiri said the practice is a clear case of "technical smuggling."
"Ang suggestion namin sa Presidente para wala nang tong-pats... just give the import order sa mga end-users, yung talagang gagamit ng asukal... para hindi na sila dadaan sa government agency," he said.
"Kailangan pa rin nila (traders) ng import permit from SRA... but end user now ang magi-import. Either sila mismo ang magi-import, or pwede silang makahanap ng trader at ibigay ang allocation na yan para mag-import para sa kanila," he added.
The higher sugar prices were brought by typhoons Agaton and Odette that hit the country, thus resulting in a shortage of 500,000 metric tons.
NO MORE IMPORTATION IN OCTOBER
The senator is confident that sugar prices will eventually go down when harvest season starts in October.
No more importation will happen starting October, he said, but noted that the country will face a "minimal shortage" of around 100,000 metric tons of sugar in household use until September.
He also said that SRA's Sugar Order No. 3 approved a total of 200,000 metric tons will enter the country anytime soon.
"Ang plano po ni Presidente at ang gusto pong i-endorse sa ating mga stakeholders kay Presidente, na mag-allocate na galing sa Sugar Order No. 3 which is 200,000 metric tons, reclassify it for domestic use," Zubiri said.
"The President within today or tomorrow, will make an announcement on behalf of the sugar industry and government on mitigation measures, to mitigate the high prices of sugar," the senator added.
"I'm assuring the public that the stakeholders of the sugar industry fully supports the President on his move to temper prices. Nakahanap po tayo ng sweet spot 'ika nga kung saan hindi po magiging apektado ang ating consumers."
Despite their productive meeting with the Chief Executive, Zubiri said, he is still looking forward to attending the investigation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Aug. 23.
The probe will center on SRA's unauthorized sugar import or the Sugar Order Number 4 despite a standing temporary restraining order from the court.
The alleged violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and "usurpation of duties" inside the SRA should no longer be repeated, he said.
"It's to teach government agencies to be more careful and more diligent... We have to teach these government agencies a lesson," Zubiri stressed.
"Huwag naman. Pag ganyan lang po, mag-resign na tapos wala na pong parusa yan at walang investigation, baka lahat ng nagkaw sa gobyerno, gagawin lang nila mag-resign lang sila, tapos na ang boxing. Hindi pupwede," said the lawmaker.
"Pag nagkaroon po ng ganoong klase ng malfeasance, misfeasance, possible violations of law, we have to investigate and cases have to be filed... kasi pag hindi po natin ginawa yan, hindi matatakot yung mga ganung kleeng unscrupulous individuals and public servants."