THE IMPORTATION of sugar does not need a sugar order, Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Tuesday.
Speaking at a probe on the allegedly illegal importation of sugar ahead of Sugar Order (SO) No. 6, Mr. Bersamin said, “We were aware that the sugar order was not absolutely necessary… for the importation to be made.”
He said that if the sugar imports already entered the country, an SO would only be essential for the issuance of clearances by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) because these would be required by the Customs bureau.
Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban told the same hearing that President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s verbal order was enough basis.
“The directive of the president to import sugar is a valid basis for allowing importers to import sugar,” he said, quoting Mr. Marcos Jr.’s words: “Let’s import.”
Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel countered the executive branch officials’ position, saying, “My plain understanding is that under the law, a sugar order is needed to allow sugar importation. Otherwise, we just blow the whole system thus far wide open.”
Mr. Bersamin cited section 117 of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, which states that, “In the case of importation, submission of requirements after the arrival of the goods prior to the release from the customs custody shall be allowed only in cases provided for by governing laws or regulations.”
“If we don’t require sugar orders anymore, we allow unfettered importation even on regulated commodities,” Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel said. “If we allow the unilateral handpicking of importers, we allow the possible thriving of cartels and monopolies, contrary to the interests of the Filipino people.”
Committee Chairman Senator Francis N. Tolentino told reporters after the hearing that Mr. Bersamin, “being a former Chief Justice… maybe he is familiar with the law and what he said had a basis.”
The Blue Ribbon committee previously ruled the need for an SO in a 2022 investigation on the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar, allegedly without the president’s consent.
“The Senate should hold the line,” Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel said. “The executive (branch) cannot set that aside. It is the legislature that should clarify, and if at all, amend it.”
She said the committee will review existing laws and may recommend amendments to specify the need for an SO before importation.
Large shipments of sugar were brought in earlier this year and were released on Mr. Panganiban’s authority. The arrival date of the shipments was not covered by new or earlier import orders.
National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the sugar inflation rate was at 38.8%, when headline inflation was at a 14-year high or 8.7%, indicating the country’s insufficient sugar supply. — Beatriz Marie D. Cruz