Farmers’ group urges DA, DTI, PNP to probe 'sugar cartel'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 21) – The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) on Sunday urged the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Philippine National Police to probe the 'sugar cartel' that Senator Risa Hontiveros said was responsible for the high prices of the commodity.

"Importation as a privilege, open it up, and it's a competition, pagandahan kayo ng presyo... so definitely pag tatlo lang ang pagbibigyan mo [na mag-import], unfair ‘yun. Bakit tatlo lang? Ano yung basis? ‘Yun ‘yung sinasabi nating cartel-like, pag walang kompetisyon," Sinag executive director Jayson Cainglet told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: Offer the lowest price…so definitely, it’s unfair if you only let three companies to import. Why only three? What’s the basis? That’s what we describe as cartel, when there is no competition.]

Hontiveros, in a media interview, lamented that the prices of sugar have not gone down even though portions of the 440,000 metric tons (MT) of the commodity earlier greenlit for importation have already entered the Philippines.

She attributed this to "cartel behavior" in the sugar sector and questioned why only three companies – All Asian Countertrade, Sucden Philippines Inc., and Edison Lee Marketing Corporation – were able to import the commodity ahead of the release of the Sugar Regulatory Administration's (SRA) Sugar Order No. 6.

"Napanutayan natin sa garlic and onion, pag walang kompetisyon, ang may control lang ay few actors, talagang wala kang control sa presyo, kahit mag-import ka nang mag-import," Cainglet said.

[Translation: It’s been proven in garlic and onion trading. Without competition and when only a few actors have control, there is no price control even if you keep importing.]

In response to Sinag’s call, SRA Acting Administrator Pablo Azcona said "There is already an inquiry regarding that matter, it is best to leave it at that.”

“For now, I would like to concentrate in updating and consulting all sugar stakeholders on what we can do more to improve productivity towards self-sufficiency,” he added.

Based on the DA’s latest price monitoring, the retail prices of refined sugar in Metro Manila markets range from ₱86 to ₱110 per kilogram. Washed sugar stands at ₱82 to ₱90 per kg. Brown sugar, on the other hand, sells at ₱78 to ₱95 per kg.

Meanwhile, sugar prices in supermarkets remain high at ₱98 to ₱106 per kg, according to Steven Cua, president of the Philippine Amalgamated Supermarkets Association, Inc.

"Prevailing prices are still high. It's been a year since the price of sugar is above a hundred peso a kilo," Cua said.

"From our end, there's nothing retailers can do, we just wait for it's not fair to pass it on to retailers because it's impossible for us to do anything about this. We're just at the waiting end of our suppliers, for our suppliers to supply us sugar at the price that's affordable to the buying public," he added.

Last week, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. approved the importation of an additional 150,000 MT of sugar to stabilize prices. He also approved a delay on the start of the sugar milling season from August to September to improve raw sugar yields.

CNN Philippines' Eireene Jairee Gomez and Seth Cabanban contributed to this report.