Salceda wants harsh punishment for sugar hoarders, profiteers

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Joey Salceda wants to consider agricultural cartels, hoarding, and profiteering as economic sabotage.

Sugar (Pixabay)

“I want to give the government the legal basis to raid hoarders and cartels, and to punish them with the full brunt of the law. I especially think there is something bitter going on in the sugar sector,” the Albay lawmaker said on Sunday, Aug. 14.

Thus, the Albay 2nd district solon vowed to file a House Bill (HB) mandating that the aforementioned acts be punished with life imprisonment and hefty fines.

It would amend Republic Act (RA) 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016 by adding to the former the illegal acts of price manipulation defined by RA 7581 or “The Price Act.”

The Price Act defines “hoarding” as undue accumulation of any basic commodity beyond normal inventory or the unreasonable limitation or refusal to dispose, sell, or distribute stocks of any basic necessity. “Profiteering” is the sale of a basic necessity at prices “grossly excess of its true worth.” Meanwhile, “cartel” is the agreement between parties engaged in production, distribution, sale, and storage of goods to “artificially and unreasonably increase prices.”

In the proposed bill, the acts penalized are those of cartel, hoarding, and profiteering of “sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish, and cruciferous vegetables, in their raw state, or which have undergone the simple processes of preparation or preservation for the market, with a minimum amount of P1,000,000.00, or rice, with a minimum amount of P10,000,000.00.”

He also suggested that President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. constitute a “Task Force on Agricultural Hoarding” to begin raiding warehouses of sugar hoarders, citing a similar mandate by the Duterte administration for rice produce in 2018.

Furthermore, Salceda suspects “abuse” in the local sugar industry.

“Mills have been transferring just 14,000MT of raw sugar to refineries from September 2021 to present, compared to 86,000 MT over the same period a year ago,” he began.

“Another figure doesn’t make ready sense to me. While demand for raw sugar was down, demand for refined sugar was actually up, suspiciously due to faster withdrawals of stocks of imports (134,000 MT from just 83,000 MT of import stocks over the same period, demand from sugar classified for domestic use being flat at around 840,000 MT),” Salceda added.

“I suspect abuse in the sugar market. The planters are saying harvest didn’t decline as much as the market suggests it did. Production declined by just 16%, but prices are up as much as 90% year on year. If something looks, smells, and feels nefarious, it probably is,” he concluded.

Salceda previously described agricultural smuggling as the “gravest sin to Philippine society,” and called on the Department of Justice to harshly prosecute offenders.