DA exec Panganiban deemed ES memo a sugar order, told firms to import
Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban said he proceeded with an immediate importation of sugar as he considered a memorandum released by the Office of the Executive Secretary a sugar order.
In a news briefing, Panganiban said he “acted with haste” in the importation of sugar given the high inflation rates being recorded in the country.
“In response to the directive of the President to address inflation and create a buffer stock and given that sugar is one of the components of most commodities that drives the consistently high inflation rate, I acted with haste and interpreted the memorandum issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary as an approval to proceed with the importation,” Panganiban said.
“With the urgency of the situation, I instructed three capable and accredited companies to proceed with the importation of sugar provided that they agree to reduce the prices of sugar, sell the commodity at a price that is commercially acceptable in the market, and that they will shoulder the cost…” he added.
Panganiban gave no details as regards the importation of sugar following the memorandum from the OES.
Senate Deputy Minority Leader Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros on Tuesday called for an investigation into the arrival of 260 20-foot containers of sugar from Thailand on February 9, which she said were not covered by earlier sugar orders.
Hontiveros said Panganiban—who represented President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the SRA Board—had a January 12 letter addressed to one of the alleged sugar importers of the questioned importation, saying that the allocation was “per instruction of Executive Secretary [Lucas] Bersamin.”
The SRA—through Board Member Pablo Azcona—said it was currently validating Hontiveros' claims, and that the supposed letter from Panganiban needed to be validated for the agency to give its reaction.
In an interview with reporters on Wednesday, Azcona said the DA was “allowed to do importation as well.”
However, the SRA board official said that “if the letter is valid then we have to sit down with the people concerned and ask why such a letter exists and what the program is all about.”
The SRA last week released an order authorizing the importation of 440,000 metric tons (MT) of refined sugar under Sugar Order No. 6 which was transmitted to the Office of the President on February 9, 2023.
The order was signed by Panganiban, SRA Administrator David John Thaddeus Alba, SRA Board members Mitzi Mangwag and Pablo Luis Azcona. It was not signed by Marcos who sits as chairman of the SRA Board.
Hontiveros said that the latest shipments could not have been covered by Sugar Order 6, as the allocation for this would only start on February 24. It was also not covered by earlier orders, as the earliest arrival date would be on March 1.
Panganiban did not categorically clarify if there was or was not a sugar order for the latest sugar shipments.
During the briefing on Wednesday, Panganiban said he considered the memorandum as a sugar order, given that the directive came from the Office of the Executive Secretary.
“The directive of the Executive Secretary to me was a manifestation that that directive is already a sugar order,” he said.
“I consider it as a sugar order already because it was a directive from the Executive Secretary,” he added.
Panganiban said he was given a three-page list of prospective importers from which he chose three which he considered as the “most capable” — a certain Mr. Escaler, Mr. Alvarado, and Mr. Lee.
“The directive was for them to bring it at the time that the sugar in the country was being harvested and that will be coming in February, March, and April,” he said.
This comes as prices of sugar surged past P100 per kilogram in select markets in Metro Manila in October last year. The latest data from the DA show that prices range from P80 to P110 per kilogram based on the variety as of Wednesday, February 22. —NB, GMA Integrated News