sugar industry

‘Sugar fiasco 2.0’: How an alleged sugar cartel rakes in billions

Lance Spencer Yu

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‘Sugar fiasco 2.0’: How an alleged sugar cartel rakes in billions
According to Hontiveros, one of the three 'favored' sugar importers charges P85 per kilo of refined sugar – much higher than the P25 per kilo wholesale price of sugar from Thailand

MANILA, Philippines – Amid the country’s sugar crisis, three sugar importers allegedly favored by the government could make more than P14 billion in profits, according to Senator Risa Hontiveros. 

The opposition senator argued that it was “irregular” to have just three sugar importers bring in the 440,000 metric tons (MT) of imported sugar permitted by Sugar Order Number 6.

“Historically, each importer is allocated around 10,000 to 20,000 metric tons each. So wow, times 10, times 20 dito (here),” Hontiveros said in a press conference on Tuesday, March 21.

According to a Department of Agriculture (DA) memorandum, the three sugar importers were given the following allocations:

  • All Asian Countertrade – 240,000 MT
  • S&D Sucden Philippines – 100,000 MT
  • Edison Lee Marketing – 100,000 MT

“This is not just a state-sponsored formation of a cartel,” Hontiveros said. “It is a cartel that generates super profits, none of which will go to the National Treasury.”

Citing unnamed sources, Hontiveros said that All Asian Countertrade currently sells refined sugar at a wholesale price of P85 per kilo – an “appalling” price, the senator said, considering wholesale refined sugar sells for just P25 per kilo in Thailand.

Hontiveros also compared a breakdown of pricing from a “decent” importer to that of All Asian Countertrade. The senator did not specify the source of the information. 

Kung matino kang importer (If you're a decent importer), you know that you would already get a decent profit if you sell sugar at P61. Bayad na doon ang (It already covers) warehousing, duties, handling, at may maayos ka na na (and you'd have a good) profit of P8 per kilo, per industry standard at a wholesale price point of P61," Hontiveros said in an online post.

“The P85 asking price of All Asian imposes an additional P24 super profit for a total of (P24 plus P8) P32 per kilo profit,” she added.

‘Most capable’ – or most favored?

Hontiveros previously highlighted that a shipment of sugar for All Asian Countertrade had already arrived in the port of Batangas as early as February 9 – weeks ahead of March 1, the earliest date that imported sugar was allowed to be brought in under Sugar Order Number 6.

In her Senate resolution filed on February 21, Hontiveros also said that as early as January 13, at least two of the three sugar importers received letters from the DA “granting them authority to import sugar at specified quantities, even when the mandate to authorize sugar importation is with the (Sugar Regulatory Administration).”

Senior Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban earlier admitted that he selected three “capable” companies to expedite the importation of sugar, as ordered by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who also concurrently serves as the agriculture secretary.

In light of the alleged “cartelization,” the opposition senator called for the immediate preventive suspension of Panganiban, along with the commencement of a Senate blue ribbon committee investigation.

Isang action na ngayon pa lang ay puwede nang gawin ng executive, to preventively suspend si Usec. Panganiban para matigil na at least from his end ‘yung damage na nagagawa na nila up to this point in time. Imbestigahan na sila. Bakit hindi pa rin? Talagang nakapagtataka,” she said in a press conference on Tuesday.

(One action that the executive branch can already take is to preventively suspend Undersecretary Panganiban to, at least, end the damage that they’ve already caused from his end. Let’s investigate them. Why don’t we do it? It makes you wonder.)

[Vantage Point] Sugar mess gets messier

[Vantage Point] Sugar mess gets messier

This isn’t the first time that the Palace, Department of Agriculture, and Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) faced controversy. In 2022, the SRA’s Sugar Order Number 4 – which bared Marcos’ signature – supposedly approved the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar to address soaring market prices. However, Malacañang later denied that Marcos had signed the order – a pronouncement that eventually led to the resignation of top DA and SRA officials.

Talagang mukhang wala pa rin natutunan kaya tawag nga namin dito Sugar Fiasco 2.0. Hindi pa nasunog sa nangyari sa nakaraang taon. Ito na naman sumusubok umulit – different cast of characters in terms of individuals, pero similar positions ang nilalagay sa sitwasyon na maaring pagdudahan ng publiko, which should not be the case,” Hontiveros said.

(It looks like they didn’t learn anything, which is why we call this Sugar Fiasco 2.0. They weren’t burned at all by what happened last year. Here they are trying it again – a different cast of characters in terms of individuals, but they’re in similar positions that could cause the public to doubt them, which should not be the case.) –

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.