House panel chair seeks briefing on sugar import volumes, prices

With his oversight power over the sugar industry, the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means will ask the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to brief lawmakers on sugar import volumes and prices.

House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Joey Sarte Salceda said the briefing is aimed at preventing the country from running out of sugar.

“On my end, what I can do as Ways and Means chair is to have the Customs brief me on import volumes and prices, and to exercise oversight of the sugar industry development activities mandated under the TRAIN [Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion] Law,” Salceda told the BusinessMirror.

Salceda said Congress will try to meet with sugar stakeholders as soon as committee members are organized.

“As soon as we have enough members for quorum, because we are still in the process of naming all members, we will organize the committee and meet stakeholders. Hopefully that happens within the next two or three weeks.”

The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) said it will start the nationwide sugar inventory this month amid concerns that the Philippines will soon run out of the sweetener.

In Circular Letter (CL) No. 32, SRA OIC-Administrator Hermenegildo R. Serafica said the physical inventory to be conducted in all operating sugar mills and refineries nationwide is part of the SRA’s efforts of assessing the country’s sugar production in crop year (CY) 2021-2022.

Also, Agriculture Undersecretary-designate Kristine Y. Evangelista said the DA and the SRA would meet industry stakeholders on August 3 to determine the additional volume of sugar needed for the country’s proposed second importation program.

Salceda has proposed a five-point mitigation agenda to prevent the country from running out of sugar.

He said the Executive branch can immediately undertake the proposed “five-point plan” to mitigate supply woes, short of increasing imports.

Salceda said the National Biofuels Board (NBB) should set the supply of sugar biofuel additives required of petroleum products to zero, and redirect the demand to other sources such as jathropa, cassava, and others.

“Second, let us request manufacturers of rubbing alcohol and other non-food sugarcane-based products to shift to other sources. I think in this regard, the Department of Science and Technology will be very important.”

Once face-to-face classes resume, Salceda said the government should restrict sugar-sweetened beverages in schools to reduce non-essential and unhealthy consumption of sugar.

Salceda said the President can instruct the Sugar Regulatory Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the local government units covering sugar districts to evaluate and optimize processes in the sugar value-chain, from harvesting to milling to refining.

“Fifth, PBBM can validate and investigate possible hoarding of sugar by traders. Some local planters have pointed out that there should not be sugar shortages,” he said.