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Senate postpones inquiry on alleged smuggling of sugar from Thailand

The Senate on Monday postponed its inquiry on alleged illegal sugar importation and favored importers as raised by opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros.

In a notice sent to the members of the Senate blue ribbon and the agriculture, food, and agrarian reform panels, Senator Francis Tolentino said the April 25 hearing will be moved to a later dare due to unavailability of resource persons.

“In view of the foreign official trips and therefore the non-availability of several important resource persons, the Initial Public Hearing on Senate Resolution 497 (Reports on the entries of sugar shipments in Philippine ports ahead of Sugar Order (SO) Number 6 and on possible provisions in SO No. 6 that may be open to abuse, patronage and cartelization by Sen. Risa Hontiveros) scheduled tomorrow, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, at 9:00 am is postponed to a later date,” he said.

Hontiveros’ resolution refers to the February 9 arrival of 260 20-foot containers of sugar from Thailand which was supposedly not covered by a SO 6 allowing the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to import of 440,000 metric tons of refined sugar.

Prior to the postponement, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said the Senate should immediately probe the supposed as state-sponsored smuggling of sugar from Thailand.

Hontiveros earlier said SO 6 could let three traders gain billions from the sugar importation.

She said one industrial user of sugar went to Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban and asked if it might be able to import sugar from Thailand for its own use.

Hontiveros said the Agriculture official told the company that there are only three allowed importers and they will have to negotiate with them through All Asian Counter Trade.

She said the company followed Panganiban's instruction but All Asian quoted a wholesale price of P85 per kilo of sugar, which allegedly imposes an additional P24 "super profit."

"Selling it at P85 is nothing short of outrageous. Parang tumama ka ng 50 times sa Super Lotto nang hindi ka man lang tumataya," Hontiveros said.

“You can actually buy refined sugar wholesale for P25 per kilo in Thailand. Kung matino kang importer, you know that you would already get a decent profit if you sell sugar at P61, bayad na doon ang warehousing, duties, handling, at may maayos ka na na profit of P8 per kilo per industry standard at a wholesale price point of P61,” she added.

Panganiban earlier 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.—Llanesca Panti/AOL, GMA Integrated News