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Commodities importation backed by sufficient data: DA

Agriculture Secretary William Dar (File photo)

MANILA – The decision to import some agricultural commodities such as sugar is backed by data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Agriculture Secretary William Dar said on Friday.

“Our policy in importation is based on data that we collect in coordination with the PSA. [We hope] that the UNIFED’s (United Sugar Producers Federation) argument should also be data-based,” Dar said in a Laging Handa briefing.

This came after the UNIFED, the country’s largest umbrella organization of sugar producers, protested the importation of 200,000 metric tons (MT) of refined sugar at the height of milling season.

Dar said the Philippines has a sufficient supply of food except for commodities such as sugar, where a deficiency is seen for the first and second quarter of 2022.

He added that the pre-final crop estimate of raw sugar production is now down to 2.072 MT, less than the 2.099 MT pre-final crop estimate prior to Typhoon Odette which caused an estimated PHP1.2 billion damage to the country’s sugar industry after sweeping through areas in the Visayas and Mindanao in December last year.

“Our refined sugar consumption’s monthly average for 2020 and 2021 is at 82,554 MT (metric tons) and currently, our refined sugar balance is only at 54,355 MT. So, we badly need to supply the gap. There is no truth to corruption claims in the importation process. We are only bridging the gap in the food supply to ensure food security of the country, especially at this time of pandemic,” Dar said.

On February 8, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) announced that it will allow the importation of 200,000 metric tons (MT) of standard and bottlers grade (premium refined) sugar in anticipation of a shortfall.

Sugar Order No. 3 was signed following the result of the assessment on the damage and losses caused by Typhoon Odette to sugarcane crops.

The lower level of raw sugar production, as well as damaged sugar mills and refineries, added to the factors considered by the board.

SRA administrator Hermenigildo Serafica said in an earlier report the importation will cover the shortfall on the supply and “will leave the country with enough buffer stock to tide over until the start of the next milling season”.

Last February 11, the Sagay City, Negros Occidental Regional Trial Court Branch 73 issued a 20-day temporary restraining order against the importation order after UNIFED’s member association, the Rural Sugar Planters Association Inc., filed a case for an injunction against the SRA’s move.

Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri and Imee Marcos have supported UNIFED in their cause.

Zubiri filed Senate Resolution 995 seeking to investigate SRA’s issuance of the order that allows the importation of sugar “even at the height of the harvest and milling season, as well as importation programs of the DA on other agricultural products with the end view of crafting policy that will ensure support for farmers and food security instead of import dependency.”

Marcos, on the other hand, questioned the DA’s importation program, particularly on fish produce, adding that Dar “has done nothing but import rice, chicken, pork, fish, and now sugar”.

The court set the hearing on the motion for the writ of the preliminary injunction on February 24. (PNA)

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