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FIRING LINE: Sugar magic trick

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

Based on the latest inventory of cases released to the media last week, 45 complaints related to the smuggling of agricultural products have been filed by the Bureau of Customs against various importers, consignees, brokers, and even customs officers.

Customs Commissioner Bienvenido Rubio highlighted the most recent cases against alleged sugar smugglers filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ). These pertain to the 58 containers of refined sugar at the Port of Subic; and the 13 containers of the same that came through the Manila International Container Terminal.

Applause! Applause! Ladies and gentlemen, if you please.

Of course, we’re applauding here the slight of hand that has their less discerning audience misled quite a bit. So let me explain further down.

Super sweet success

Several issues back, Firing Line has been devoting a generous part of this biweekly space to republish the names of individuals and companies that crop up from the congressional investigations into agricultural smuggling, particularly of onions and sugar.

One of the most insightful among our congressional sleuths is Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who just recently questioned why the three “favored” importers of refined sugar from Thailand have been getting away with profiteering.

By buying at P25 a kilo from our Southeast Asian neighbor and passing it to their Filipino kababayan at P85 per kilo, Hontiveros exposed how these three sugar traders all by themselves have skinned the nation of P44 billion in profits.

I’m not an agent of the law or even well versed in using it, and perhaps that’s good; because if I were, I’d arrest, prosecute, convict, and execute these traitors of traders for treason. 

Citing the usual course of business with sugar importers, the good senator says “each importer is allocated around 10,000 to 20,000 metric tons.” But with the amount of sugar these three overly talented importers brought in, Hontiveros says they’ve pretty much covered the 440,000 metric tons (MT) of imported sugar permitted under the government’s Sugar Order No. 6!

No less than the Department of Agriculture – headed by our great President No. 17 – offered proof of this in its records: All Asian Countertrade, 240,000 MT; Edison Lee Marketing, 100,000 MT; and S&D Sucden Philippines, 100,000 MT. Isn’t that a killing of the market?!

The misdirection

And so now, you must see more clearly what “slight of hand” I’m sarcastically applauding in this corner. The BOC heralding its filing of charges against sugar importers does sound like a feisty move.

But all things considered, it appears to me like these importers being charged are just bunnies and doves pulled out of a magic hat. They’re all part of the trick of misdirection so that the big fish can escape.

I can only imagine Sen. Hontiveros’ dismay. After all, it was Agriculture Senior Secretary Domingo Panganiban who practically admitted that he handpicked what he called “the three capable companies” to expedite the importation of sugar, as President No. 17 had ordered.

Woefully, we Filipinos are exactly like an audience paying for tickets to a magic show. We watch the trick, suspend ourselves in disbelief, then applaud. But if someone like Sen. Risa, for example, steps on the stage to show how that “magic” is a mere trick — we’re left disinterested. Trick justified!

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at

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