MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 25 August) — An official of Crystal Sugar Milling Company vehemently denied that the company was hoarding thousands of bags of sugar, which some sectors have blamed for the reported shortage of the commodity in local markets.
In a press conference Thursday morning streamed live on Facebook, Javier Sagarbarria, resident manager of the Maramag, Bukidnon-based company said most of the stocks in their warehouse had been sold to traders but were not yet withdrawn.
The press conference was held two days after authorities inspected Crystal Sugar’s warehouse in Maramag and reportedly found 466,142 bags of sugar.
The inspection was done by intelligence agents of the Bureau of Customs (BoC).
The Office of the Press Secretary, in a news release on Wednesday, called the BoC’s action in Maramag a raid versus hoarders ordered by President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.
Republic Act 7581 says hoarding occurs when “a person has stocks of any basic necessity or prime commodity fifty percent higher than his usual inventory and unreasonably limits, refuses or fails to sell the same to the general public at the time of discovery of the excess. The determination of a person’s usual inventory shall be reckoned from the third month immediately preceding before the discovery of the stocks in case the person has been engaged in the business for at least three months; otherwise, it shall be reckoned from the time he started his business.”
The law includes sugar as one of the basic necessities.
Sagarbarria said Crystal Sugar operates a milling plant in Maramag town, one of the two sugar milling plants in Bukidnon.
“We are a milling company not a marketing firm. Naturally, we produce millions of sacks a year,” Sagarbarria said.
He said the total sugar production of Crystal Sugar is divided between the farmers/planters (66 percent) and the company (34 percent).
Sagarbarria said that when the Custom agents came last Tuesday, they had in storage 466,142 sacks of sugar, of which 264,000 are owned by the farmers/planters.
“We do not have control as to whom the farmers would like to sell their sugar. We only control what is our share,” he said.
Sagarbarria said all shipments of sugar is strictly monitored by the Sugar Regulatory Administration, who posted representatives outside their warehouses—a practice common to all sugar milling plants in the country.
“A single infraction can close our company forever. We can not take that risk,” he said.
Sagarbarria decried the bad publicity brought by the BoC to their company, which has operated for more than 30 years in Bukidnon.
Sagarbarria said that as of Wednesday, they only had 390,000 bags of sugar left in their warehouse.
He said their annual production averaged close to three million 50-kilo bags. Their production last year reached 2,986,709.82 50-kilo bags.
Crystal Sugar only produces brown sugar, although it is planning to go into refined sugar production, he added.
Sagarbarria said the traders have 60 days to withdraw their stocks from the time of purchase, after which they will charge a storage fee.
He said 66 percent of Crystal Sugar’s production goes to the planters in the form of “quedan,” a negotiable instrument similar to a check which the planters sell to traders.
The traders would then give the quedan to the company, and pay certain fees which are remitted to the government as revenues, he explained.
He said that based on their 2021 output, 1.9 million bags belonged to the planters.
Crystal Sugar is owned by Pablo L. Lobregat, who is also chair of the Philippine Sugar Millers Association.
CNN Philippines, in a Twitter post on Aug. 15, quoted Lobregat as saying that the controversy surrounding Sugar Order No. 4 allowing the importation of the commodity was just a matter of inter-office communications and that importation is needed due to rising sugar prices.
But another sugar producers group said the shortage was caused by hoarding.
During the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on Tuesday, United Sugar Producers Federation president Manuel Lamata said they thought Marcos ordered the importation of sugar so they signed a written recommendation.
“We were made to believe that the President ordered the importation. They wanted the importation of 300,000 metric tons because it was a national emergency. So, we signed because who are we to question the wisdom of the President,” Lamata said. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno and Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)