The government should turn over the confiscated smuggled sugar to the Department of Social Welfare and Development and distribute it to the less fortunate for free, Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros said Friday.
The lawmaker released a statement days after the Sugar Regulatory Administration amended its rules to authorize the donation of seized smuggled sugar to Kadiwa stores and allow its sale to the general public.
SRA Board Member Pablo Azcona said that a total of 4,000 metric tons of seized smuggled refined sugar are ready to be released for sale at Kadiwa stores, where it will be sold for P70 per kilo.
“Bakit pagkakakitaan pa ang galing sa iligal? Sa komputasyon ng aking opisina, dapat P65 lang ang presyo ng asukal na imported galing Thailand. Hindi ba ang goal ay maging abot-kaya ang presyo para sa lahat ng Pilipino? Pero bakit mataas pa rin ang presyo kung ibebenta?" Hontiveros asked.
(Why make a profit out of smuggled goods? Based on the computation of my office, sugar supplies which are imported from Thailand should be sold for P65 only. Isn’t the goal of Kadiwa stores to sell goods at a price that is affordable for Filipinos? But why are they still selling it at a much higher price?)
Hontiveros also said the SRA should expand the list of traders and industries that are authorized to procure sugar supplies instead of relying on smuggled sugar to supply Kadiwa stores.
The lawmaker said that the importation should not be limited to three suppliers, namely, All Asian Countertrade Inc., Edison Lee Marketing Corporation, and Sucden Philippines, whom she tagged as “favored” importers.
As in previous years, these traders will then compete to offer the lowest price to the market, in contrast to the prospect of high cartel-dictated prices, she said.
"Hindi kailangang umasa ng Kadiwa stores sa mga puslit na asukal para mura ang benta nito. Kailangang sugpuin ang pribadong kartel sa asukal na nagpapataas ng presyo, dahil na rin sa kagagawan ng gobyerno,” Hontiveros said.
(Kadiwa stores should not rely on smuggled sugar to ensure low prices. These private sugar cartels should be dismantled because they set market prices, thanks to the government's moves.)
In March, Hontiveros disclosed that the three traders may gain billions from the supposed sugar importation. This prompted her to call it the “state-sponsored formation of a cartel.”
Further, Hontiveros said that the Department of Agriculture and the SRA could expand their cooperation with stakeholders in the local sugar industry so that production can be increased even during the ongoing milling season for sugar.
This, she said, is in line with the proposals by groups such as the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG).
“Hindi pagkunsinti sa smuggling ang sagot sa ating problema sa mataas na presyo ng asukal. Huwag tayong magpadala sa palusot ng mga nais manamantala sa problema sa hapag-kainan ng taumbayan,” she said.
The Senate minority bloc has been prodding the Senate blue ribbon committee to launch a probe into the alleged irregular sugar importation on February 9 involving 260 20-foot containers of sugar from Thailand.
Hontiveros had said that the February 9 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 March 1.
The Senate blue ribbon committee is scheduled to begin the investigation into the so-called “Sugar Fiasco No. 2” next week. —VBL, GMA Integrated News