BOC: Malacañang ordered inspection
MANILA (UPDATED) — Thousands of sacks of sugar, some of which were suspected to have been smuggled into the country, were discovered in warehouses in Bulacan and Pampanga on Thursday, authorities said.
The inspections by Bureau of Customs personnel assisted by local authorities were carried out on orders of Malacanang amid complaints of high prices of the commodity.
According to the BOC, some 44,000 sacks of sugar with an estimated value of P220 million were found in the warehouses in the two neighboring provinces north of the capital Manila.
Almost all of those were stored in two separate warehouses in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, according to the Office of the Press Secretary. The items found there appear to have been produced locally, based on the label on the sacks.
The remaining few, numbering 190, were discovered in the warehouse in San Fernando City, Pampanga. A press statement earlier in the day by the OPS said these are suspected to have been imported from Thailand and are allegedly being hoarded.
The OPS press statement said there were also some already found loaded in delivery vans.
Aside from sugar, the following were also found in the Pampanga warehouse, according to the OPS:
- sacks of corn starch from China
- sacks of imported flour
- plastic products
- oil in plastic barrels
- motorcycle parts and wheels of different brands
- LED television sets
The OPS said that the first warehouse in San Jose del Monte was raided on Wednesday. Between 25,000 and 30,000 sacks of "different kinds of sugar" were found there.
It is allegedly owned by a Chinese-Filipino sugar trader.
Another warehouse owned by the same businessman was inspected Thursday. Authorities found around 42,733 sacks of sugar there, estimated to cost around P215 million, the OPS said.
"The joint BoC-DA (Department of Agriculture) raid was based on information that the warehouse... has been storing hoarded sugar aimed at raking huge profits from the current high sugar prices in the market," the government statement read.
The owner said the products were purchased locally.
He was given 15 days to explain and present documents as proof of legality.
BOC officials said the owner admitted to hoarding the sugar while price is low. But this was denied by the man in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
Saying he did not violate any law, the businessman explained the stock of local sugar are already for delivery in the market.
"Pinapasok ko sila. Wala naman akong tinatagong imported. Kasi ang nakalagay naman dun, mga imported na asukal. Wala naman ako n'yan. Nakita na puro lokal sugar ang dala. Tapos nag-inspect, wala naman nakita na imported. Tapos, pinadlock nila yun bodega. Nakikiusap naman ako sa kanila na may mga truck na kasi na mga loaded na for delivery, na may mga resibo na sila for delivery, hinold nila yun," the warehouse owner said.
Customs officials said the businessman may be sued for hoarding and economic sabotage if there is enough evidence.
A Chinese-Filipino keeper at the warehouse in Pampanga received the BOC's letter of authority and mission order. The warehouse owner was given 15 days to present proof that the items were legally imported.
The OPS said the inspection was authorized by Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez on orders of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. to determine if there is hoarding of sugar in the country.
"The BoC is investigating reports that the Pampanga warehouse had long been smuggling sugar from Thailand, repacking them and then sold as 'local sugar.' The modus was indicated by old sacks of Thailand sugar the BoC agents found in the premises but were not properly disposed," a separate government statement read.
If the sacks of sugar discovered are proven to be smuggled, the warehouse owners may face charges in connection with the Customs Modernization Act (CMTA), the OPS said.
“The BoC’s Pampanga sugar warehouse raid may very well serve as a warning to unscrupulous traders who are currently hoarding their stocks of sugar in order to profit from the current artificial sugar shortage situation,” Rodriguez said in the OPS statement.
Rodriguez's office is reportedly looking into reports that the botched importation order of the 300,000 metric tons of sugar was "being pushed aggressively by certain traders," the OPS said.
"[These traders] intend to use it (importation order) as a "cover" for them to release the sugar they had hoarded but couldn't release as this would depress prices," the statement read.
The SRA will be recommending steps to the Palace as to what to do with the sacks of sugar.
The inspections came days after officials from the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) approved an unauthorized order for sugar imports supposedly to address the country's sugar woes, as prices of refined sugar reached P100/kilo in wet markets.
Malacañang has said that Marcos, who temporarily heads the agriculture portfolio, did not approve the order for the importation of 300,000 MT of sugar. It described the SRA's act as "illegal."
The controversy prompted the resignation of Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian last week as he admitted to the lapses he made over the signing the document on behalf of Marcos.
This week, SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica and SRA board member Roland Beltran also tendered their resignations following the controversy.