Sugar leaders slam Coke for ‘outright smuggling’ complaint

SUGAR industry leaders in Negros Occidental slammed beverage giant Coca-Cola Femsa Philippines for facing an outright smuggling complaint following its alleged importation of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) without clearance from the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).

“Using their own slogan ‘taste the feeling,’ Coke will now have an opportunity to experience the feeling of being tagged a criminal after they were charged as criminally liable for outright smuggling,” said Emilio Yulo III, spokesperson of Sugar Alliance of the Philippines (SAP).

The complaint was filed on May 11 by deputy chief Edgardo Lumanog Jr. of the Sugar Anti-Smuggling Organization, a division of the Sugar Master Plan Foundation Inc. tasked to coordinate and provide relevant information to the Bureau of Customs and the SRA about sugar smuggling.

Yulo said the SAP greatly salute the men and women of the Saso for “bravely filing the smuggling charges against this multi-national which apparently does not give much regard to our state policies by blatantly defying sugar order and even evading custom duties.”

He added that Coke is “anything, but shameless,” pointing out that those who continue to patronize their products must be ashamed of even supporting the giant company that defies the country’s policies for their own profit.

The complaint stated that Coca-Cola imported HFCS from China from March 10 to 15, then withdrew the HFCS shipments without the SRA clearance.

The beverage giant also evaded the payment of the required fees under the SRA’s Sugar Order 3, which regulates the entry of HFCS in the country, it added.

The sugar order became effective on March 10 following its issuance on February 24.

The complaint stressed that the HFCS shipments arrived in the country after the March 10 effectivity order.

It also noted that the dutiable value of the HFCS shipments of Coke was at P70,162,244 while the assessment of the Customs was only P8,617,233, leaving a discrepancy of P61,545,011.

Named respondents in the case are Coca-Cola Femsa Philippines Chief Executive Officer Washington Fabricio Ponce Garcia, Chief Finance Officer Sunil Gupta, and Directors Francisco Martinez Colunga, Jerri Liu, Juan Pablo Rodriguez, Sunil Ghatnekar, Johan Willem Maarten Jansen and Macaria Saldua.

“This action from Coke posts the effectiveness of sugar order and is very telling as to how far this company will go to rake in profit. We have always said that Coke cannot be relied on even after they claimed under oath at the senate hearing that they respect the validity of SO 3. Again, this is double talk from a company that says something and acts in another way,” Yulo said.

He noted that this is not the first defiance the beverage firm showed against existing policies as they also snubbed the request from the Provincial Board to show proof that the HFCS they are using to sweeten their beverage comes from non-genetically modified organism corn.

“I am looking forward to how they will explain the criminal charges during the congressional hearing this Tuesday,” he said.

He said the issue has gone beyond the sugar industry’s call and he is hopeful that the National Government will now act on the matter following the development.

“Coke must not be allowed to get away lightly with this case. This is an outright slap to our government and our country,” he said.

He said he is hoping that this is also wake-up call to those who have not abandoned patronizing their products.

Meeting with lawmakers

Officials of SAP are set to meet today with some Negrense congressmen, a day before the scheduled hearing on the HFCS importation.

Fifth District Representative Alejandro Mirasol on Sunday, May 14, said they will discuss the cause of the sugar leaders geared toward the protection of the interest of the sugar industry.

He said the use of HFCS by a particular beverage company is causing distress to the sugar industry, thus there is a need to stop it with the aid of the Congress.

Mirasol said that despite the Coke boycott, the cost of sugar has dived from P1,800 to P1,300 per 50-kilo bag which is already too much for the sugar industry players and stakeholders.

"But let us hope for the best for the next crop year because the milling season will soon end," he said.

For his part, Bacolod City Representative Greg Gasataya said all sugar associations and agrarian reform beneficiaries were invited to attend the hearing at the House of Representatives on Tuesday, May 16.

The hearing will be spearheaded by chairman of House committee on agriculture, Anac-IP party-list Representative Jose Panganiban Jr.

Gasataya will present the data and the situation of the sugar industry, including the effect of the importation of the HFCS. (With reports from Carla N. Canet and Merlinda A. Pedrosa)