A MAN repacks sugar in packets at a public market in Taguig City, Aug. 27, 2008. — REUTERS/CHERYL RAVELO

SUGAR workers called on David John Thaddeus P. Alba, the outgoing head of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to clarify the circumstances behind the sugar imports which were apparently brought in without the needed approvals.

In a statement, National Federation of Sugar Workers  Chairman John Milton Lozande asked Mr. Alba to disclose what he knows about the “illegal” sugar imports which arrived prior to the issuance of Sugar Order No. 6 (SO 6).

Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban said he has “handpicked” three “capable” importers “due to the urgency of the situation,” whose shipments were ordered days before the application process to import under SO 6 closed.

All Asia Countertrade, Inc. was allocated 240,000 MT while Edison Lee Marketing Corp. and S&D Sucden Philippines, Inc. were given allocations of 100,000 MT each.

Mr. Lozande said that there is “much more at stake” than the SRA’s reputation such as the production and supply of domestic sugar and the livelihoods of sugar farmers and workers.

He also noted how the Department of Agriculture (DA) responded to a recent spate of resignations.

“Will this be the only response of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to different anomalies? To accept continuous resignations of the officials of the SRA?” he said.

Mr. Alba was the second head of the SRA to resign during the term of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. who also head the DA.

Hermenegildo R. Serafica stepped down on Aug. 15, 2022, citing health reasons. He resigned after confusion over whether SO 2 was authorized, after the Palace said Mr. Marcos in his capacity as Agriculture Secretary had not approved the order. SO 2 had ordered sugar imports of 300,000 MT.

On Friday, the Presidential Communications Office said that Mr. Marcos had accepted the resignation of Mr. Alba effective April 15.

In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Alba rejected attempts to apply alternative interpretations to his resignation other than health reasons.

He said that the position “has taken a negative toll” on his health and family life.

“I am taking this opportunity to dispel any other interpretations and speculation regarding my resignation and to make it clear that it stems from purely health-related reasons,” he said.

“Had I been in better health, I would gladly continue with the responsibility entrusted to me by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.,” he added.

United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines President Manuel R. Lamata said that the next administrator must put farmers and consumers first.

“First of all, the qualities should be a pro-farmer, that is the most important as the sugar industry consists of 90% farmers. Only few are millers,” he told reporters on Friday. — Sheldeen Joy Talavera