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

A SENATOR on Wednesday questioned a Feb. 27 Agriculture department memo that cleared the release of 240,000 metric tons of imported sugar that she said entered the country without permits.

“We should not ignore this smoking-gun proof of government-sponsored sugar smuggling being coordinated at the highest levels of the bureaucracy,” Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said in a statement.

In the memo, Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban cleared for release imported sugar consigned to All Asian Countertrade, Inc.

The shipments entered the country without permits and before an import order was issued by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), Ms. Hontiveros said.

The release of the memo showed that authorities were aware that shipments of sugar arrived in the country way before March 1, the earliest date legally imported sugar could reach Philippine ports, she added.

“Not only were they aware of those dubious shipments, they even wanted to clear them for release despite those shipments being obviously smuggled.”

Ms. Hontiveros earlier flagged the shipment, which arrived before their allowed date of entry in the port of Bantangas on Feb. 9.

Ms. Hontiveros has filed a resolution asking the blue ribbon committee to investigate the shipment, noting that import orders might be prone to abuse.

The sugar, which arrived in 260 20-foot containers, came on the strength of a memo issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary, Mr. Panganibann said on Feb. 22.

He added that he had asked three traders with a proven track record to import the sugar given the need to urgently address supply and price issues.

“In response to the directive of the president to address inflation and create a buffer stock and given that sugar is one of the components of most of commodities that drives the consistently high inflation rate, I acted with haste and interpreted the memorandum issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary as an approval to proceed with the imports,” Mr. Panganiban said earlier. — KATA