Bersamin defends sugar imports

Bersamin told the Senate panel that the importation of sugar totaling 440,000 metric tons was ‘legitimate’ and ‘fully authorized’

The government can import sugar even without the issuance of a sugar order, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin said Tuesday.

“Our opinion is that a sugar order is not required to be issued prior to the importation,” Bersamin said during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing into the entries of around 440,000 metric tons of sugar in Philippine ports ahead of the issuance of Sugar Order 6.

“Your query a while ago is whether a sugar order is indispensable to the authorization of an importation. Prior issuance of a sugar order is not necessary for starting the process of importation of sugar,” he added.

The former chief justice made the remarks after Senator Risa Hontiveros asked if a sugar importation can proceed without a sugar order.

To recall, Hontiveros called on the Senate panel to investigate the importation of sugar which arrived on 9 February, ahead of the Sugar Regulatory Administration’s issuance of Sugar Order 6 on 15 February.

Bersamin also told the Senate panel that the importation of sugar totaling 440,000 metric tons was “legitimate” and “fully authorized.”

“We confirmed that the (sugar) importation was legitimate and fully authorized by the government. The importation was not an effort at cartelization nor was it about government smuggling of sugar,” he said.

He explained that the importation was undertaken as a “sincere move to check the rising inflation and food prices that were prejudicing the public in the months leading to January 2023.”

“The administration thereby made sure that the importation would establish a buffer stock of sugar as a measure to regulate price increases in a large way.

Citing the original function of the SRA, Bersamin also told the panel that the agency “has nothing to with sugar importation.”

“We were at that time, a net exporter of sugar,” he said.

“The creation of the Sugar Regulatory Commission under this EO had nothing to do with sugar importation,” he added, referring to Executive Order 18, which was signed by                                                                     then-President Corazon Aquino in 1996.

“To us in the Office of the President, we have committed no irregularity nor violation when we issued that sugar. Neither was there any violation committed by any of the parties involved in this questioned transaction,” he said.

“As we read it, the Department of Agriculture, the SRA, and the Bureau of Customs all acted in accordance with the law,” he added.


‘Grave implications’

In a press briefing, Hontiveros expressed concern over the “grave implications” of the remarks made by the executive secretary during the Senate hearing.

“It looks like the legislature was robbed by the executive in its role in policymaking. The implications were heavy,” she said.

“What we witnessed earlier was a change in the rules, changes in effect, [and] laws — right in front of our very eyes. To tell that sugar order is not needed before importing sugar, a regulated commodity,” she added.

The lawmaker also mentioned the sugar fiasco last year which led to the resignation of former executive secretary Vic Rodriguez.

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