Operatives from the Bureau of Customs (BOC) on Thursday raided a warehouse in Pampanga that is allegedly involved in hoarding sugar, the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) said.
This, as Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez warned "unscrupulous traders" against hoarding sugar stocks for profit.
"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 a statement issued by OPS.
According to the OPS, agents from the Clark-based Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) and Enforcement and Security Service (ESS) – Quick Reaction Team raided the building that houses the New Public Market in Barangay Del Pilar in San Fernando City.
The raid was conducted following an order from Rodriguez, acting on a directive from President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., directing the BOC to exercise its visitorial powers to all customs bonded warehouses and check the inventory of imported agricultural products.
According to Rodriguez, his office is probing the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar being pushed by traders "who intend to use it as a 'cover' for them to release the sugar they had hoarded but couldn't release as this would depress prices."
He said the massive importation of sugar could result in "windfall profits" for traders of at least P300 million, with a portion of the amount earmarked as lobby money.
During the raid, Customs agents were able to seize suspected hoarded sacks of imported sugar from Thailand as well as hundreds of sacks of sugar inside delivery vans.
Aside from sugar, authorities also found several imported items, including sacks of corn starch from China, sacks of flour, plastic products, oil in plastic barrels, motorcycle parts and wheels of different brands, helmets, LED Televisions sets and paints.
The OPS said the CIIS is doing inventory of the said products. Authorities gave the warehouse owners 15 days to present necessary documents, which will prove that the items were legally imported.
If proven that the Thailand sugar were smuggled, the warehouse owners may face charges of smuggling in relation to the provisions of The Customs Modernization Act (CMTA), according to the OPS.
The raid was conducted amid issue on the sugar importation as well as the soaring prices of sugar in the market.
Marcos earlier said the country may import sugar by October.
More to come
In a separate news release, the OPS said two warehouses in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan, which are owned by a Chinese-Filipino sugar trader, were also inspected late Wednesday evening and on Thursday afternoon.
During Wednesday's inspection, authorities found around 25,000 to 30,000 sacks of different kinds of sugar, which were neatly stacked in the warehouse owned by Victor Chua.
The owner insisted that his sugar stock was "locally purchased."
Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) officer-in-charge Joeffrey Tacio said they are doing an inventory of the confiscated sugar and gave the owner 15 days to present the necessary documents that will prove the seized sugar was not hoarded.
Another warehouse owned by Chua was inspected on Thursday, wherein some 42,733 sacks of sugar, equivalent to 2,150 metric tons of sugar, were discovered by authorities.
The inspection, conducted by Customs agents and personnel from the Department of Agriculture, was done after authorities received information that Chua was supposedly hoarding sugar to gain huge profits.
More inspections will be conducted in the days ahead, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said.
"This is a series of raids," she told reporters.
At a separate press conference, Gabriela party-list Representative Arlene Brosas said what the government must address is the rising cost of sugar production instead of resorting to importation.
"Ang dapat aksyunan ang napakamahal na production cost ng asukal, pababain ang presyo ng abono, imbes na kagyat na importation na naman ang gagawin," she said.
(What the government should address is the rising production cost of sugar, they should reduce the price of fertilizer instead of relying on importation yet again.)
For her part, Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list Representative France Castro said declaring a sugar shortage should be based on data.
"Kung totoo na kulang, may hoarding ba riyan? Dapat i-raid kung dapat, gamitin niya ang kanyang kapangyarihan para makita talaga ang mga warehouse nitong mga asukal, makita ang inventory kung nagkukulang talaga," Castro said.
(If there is a shortage, then is there hoarding? One choice is to raid. He should use his authority to examine the sugar warehouses' inventory.)
GMA News Online has already sought Malacañang's comment, but it has yet to give one as of posting time. —Anna Felicia Bajo and Llanesca T. Panti/KBK/VBL, GMA News