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SRA sugar importation order halted

/ 05:28 AM February 16, 2022

Sugar producers scored a victory after a regional trial court (RTC) temporarily halted the government’s plan to import 200,000 metric tons of sugar, which were supposed to plug the expected supply deficit and temper rising prices.

In a two-page ruling furnished the media on Tuesday, the Regional Trial Court Branch 73 in Sagay City, Negros Occidental, issued the 20-day temporary restraining order (TRO) “enjoining and restraining” the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) from implementing its sugar importation plan.

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The issuance of the TRO favored the Rural Sugar Planters Association, Inc., which earlier turned to the court at the prodding of planter-members to seek the recall of the SRA’s importation order.

Penned by Executive Judge Reginald Fuentebella, the order said a TRO may be issued ex parte “to preserve the status quo until the hearing of the application for preliminary injunction [,] which cannot be issued ex parte.”

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“A trial court may also issue ex parte a temporary restraining order for 20 days if it shall appear from facts shown by affidavits or by the verified application that great or irreparable injury would result to the applicant before the matter can be heard on notice,” it added.

The plaintiff, the RTC said, “has shown to the satisfaction” the resulting “grave or irreparable injury” from the implementation of Sugar Order No. 3. It also cited the “urgent need for the writ to prevent irreparable injury to be applicant.”

The country’s sugar industry directly and indirectly impacts the lives of around three million Filipinos, it added.

SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica declined to immediately comment on the Negros Occidental RTC’s decision, pending the resolution of the case.

“Subject to the advice of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel on the pending case for issuance of an injunction, the SRA shall hold in abeyance any official statement or act pertaining to importation and shall yield to the court’s order, in accordance with the sub judice rule,” said Serafica in a text message.

“This is without prejudice to any legal action which the SRA may thereafter undertake,” he added.

The Rural Sugar Planters Association, a member-association of the United Sugar Producers Federation (Unifed), filed the petition, saying that the planned importation will bring about “grave injustice, untold irreparable injury, losses and damages” to the sugar industry.

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Sugar farmers have repeatedly urged the government to recall plans to import 100,000 MT each of standard and bottler’s grade refined sugar, especially at the peak of the milling season, saying that local sugar prices have dropped by as much as 10 percent in most mills.

Figures provided by the industry showed prices have declined by as low as P99.12 per 50-kilogram bag (LKg) to as high as P230 per LKg, just two days after the release of the SRA order early this month.

Since last year, the industry has been calling on the government to arrest the rising prices of farm inputs including fertilizers, along with high fuel prices which Unifed said have caused the surge in production costs.

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