sugar industry

Resigned SRA chief should ‘speak his truth’ on sugar fiasco – Hontiveros

Lance Spencer Yu

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Resigned SRA chief should ‘speak his truth’ on sugar fiasco – Hontiveros

'FAVORED'. Senator Risa Hontiveros presents the alleged sugar smuggling to the Senate media on March 21, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) 'We urge others to come out if they have information as well. Baka kung hindi, you will be left holding the bag,' says Senator Risa Hontiveros

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition senator Risa Hontiveros has urged recently resigned Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) head David Thaddeus Alba to shed light on allegations of preferential treatment being given to certain sugar importers.

“We urge former administrator Alba to come out and speak his truth. We urge others to come out if they have information as well. Baka kung hindi (Otherwise), you will be left holding the bag,” Hontiveros said in a statement on Saturday, March 25.

Earlier this week, Hontiveros alleged that a “sugar cartel” of three government-favored importers were raking in as much as P14 billion in profits. Days later, Malacañang confirmed the resignation of Alba, citing his “worsening health.”

According to Hontiveros, Alba did not sign the release order for the alleged cartel’s imported sugar, which is currently still held at the port of Batangas.

Basta ang alam natin, sa kabila ng pressure ng DA, ay hindi pumirma si Administrator Alba sa sugar release order para sa mga smuggled na asukal na nakaipit pa rin sa port of Batangas. Mabuhay siya!” Hontiveros said.

(From what we know, in the face of pressure from the Department of Agriculture, Administrator Alba did not sign the sugar release order for the smuggled sugar that is currently stuck in the port of Batangas. Bravo!)

In a statement on Saturday, Alba confirmed reports of his resignation, saying his duties and responsibilities as acting administrator “has taken a negative toll on my health and family life.”

“I must regrettably resign as the acting administrator in order to preserve my health as well as make a full recovery,” he said.

Alba also dispelled “any other interpretations and speculation” about his resignation and said it “stems from purely health-related reasons.”

“Had I been in better health, I would gladly continue with the responsibility entrusted to me by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. I wish the next administrator the best, and I hope that [the] gains and programs we have achieved for the sugar industry will continue long into the future,” he added.

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[ANALYSIS] Is Marcos condoning sugar smuggling and cartels?

[ANALYSIS] Is Marcos condoning sugar smuggling and cartels?

Alba’s resignation amid allegations of a government-backed sugar cartel is the latest thorn in the side of the SRA. Just seven months before this, in August 2022, Alba’s predecessor Hermenegildo Serafica also resigned from the SRA following the unauthorized signing of an “illegal” sugar importation resolution.

“Many sugar insiders believe that this is a clear sign that Mr. Alba has seen that SRA is only being used as a rubber stamp to legitimize the preferential treatment given to All Asian and the other two importers. The circumstances seem to suggest that,” Hontiveros said.

“​​Para saan pa ang SRA? Parang naging kabalintunaan na (What else is the SRA for? It’s ironic that) we set rigorous guidelines to import sugar for the protection of our local industry, and then we surrender that protection by allowing three traders to violate these guidelines,” she added.

The Department of Agriculture’s (DA) orders to release the imported sugar was also flagged as questionable by Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters.

“This is the first time that the Department of Agriculture, claiming it acted on direct orders from Malacañang, chose only three favored traders to import the sugar, which is in direct contravention to the provisions of Sugar Order No. 6 allowing such sugar importation and stating the process in awarding the volume of importation,” Rojas said in a statement.

Rojas added that he lauded the decision of Alba to resign and “remove himself from any further involvement in this questionable importation.”

Alba is now the second SRA chief to resign under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as controversies continue to rock the agriculture department, which is concurrently headed by Marcos. – Rappler.com

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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.