The sugar corporations are not entitled to reimbursement of 25% of the conversion fee amounting to P38,637,000.00.
Section 2 of EO 87 granted the Committee on Sugar Conversion/Auction power to promulgate rules governing sugar importation by the private sector. It provides:
SEC. 2. Committee on Sugar Conversion/Auction. – There is hereby created a Committee on Sugar Conversion/Auction which shall be headed by the DA, with the following as members: NEDA, DTI, DOF, SRA, and a representative each from the sugar planters’ group and the sugar millers’ group. The Committee is hereby authorized to determine the parameters and procedures on the importation of sugar by the private sector, and the collection and remittance of the fee for the conversion of sugar from “C” (reserve sugar) to “B” (domestic sugar). (Emphasis supplied)
Pursuant to this authority, the Committee issued the Bidding Rules subject of the controversy, paragraph G.1 of which provides that if the importer fails to make the importation, 25% of the conversion fee shall be forfeited in favor of the SRA, thus:
G. Forfeiture of Conversion Fee
G.1 In case of failure of the importer to make the importation or for the imported sugar to arrive in the Philippines on or before the Arrival Date, the 25% of Conversion Fee Bid already paid shall be forfeited in favor of the SRA and the imported sugar shall not be classified as “B” (domestic sugar) unless, upon application with the SRA and without objection of the Committee, the SRA allows such conversion after payment by the importer of 100% of the Conversion Fee applicable to the shipment.23 (Emphasis supplied)
In joining the bid for sugar importation, the sugar corporations are deemed to have assented to the Bidding Rules, including the forfeiture provision under paragraph G.1. The Bidding Rules bind the sugar corporations. The latter cannot rely on the lame excuse that they are not aware of the forfeiture provision.
At the trial, Teresita Tan testified that the Bidding Rules were duly published in a newspaper of general circulation.24 Vicente Cenzon, a sugar importer who participated in the bidding for the 3rd tranche, testified that he attended the pre-bid conference where the Bidding Rules were discussed and copies of the same were distributed to all the bidders.25
On the other hand, all that the sugar corporations managed to come up with was the self-serving testimony of its witness, Daniel Fajardo, that the sugar corporations were not informed of the forfeiture provision in the Bidding Rules.26
The Bidding Rules passed through a consultative process actively participated by various government agencies and their counterpart in the private sector: the Department of Agriculture, the National Economic Development Authority, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Finance, the Sugar Regulatory Administration, and a representative each from the sugar planters’ group and the sugar millers’ group.27
We find nothing in the forfeiture provision of the Bidding Rules that is contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order, or public policy. On the contrary, the forfeiture provision fully supports government efforts to aid the country’s ailing sugar industry. Conversion fees, including those that are forfeited under paragraph G.1 of the Bidding Rules, are automatically remitted to the Bureau of Treasury and go directly to the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund.28
It is unrefuted that the sugar corporations failed in their contractual undertaking to import the remaining 27,000 metric tons of sugar specified in their sugar import allocation. Applying paragraph G.1 of the Bidding Rules, such failure is subject to forfeiture of the 25% of the conversion fee the sugar corporations paid as part of their contractual undertaking.
The RTC gravely erred in ordering the SRA to return the forfeited conversion fee to the sugar corporations. Its strained interpretation that paragraph G.1 of the Bidding Rules contemplates cases of delay in the arrival of imported sugar but not cases of cancellation of sugar importation defies logic and the express provision of paragraph G.1. If delay in the arrival of imported sugar is subject to forfeiture of 25% of the conversion fee, with more reason is outright failure to import sugar, by cancelling the sugar importation altogether, subject to forfeiture of the 25% of the conversion fee.
Plainly and expressly, paragraph G.1 identifies two situations which would bring about the forfeiture of 25% of the conversion fee: (1) when the importer fails to make the importation or (2) when the imported sugar fails to arrive in the Philippines on or before the set arrival date. It is wrong for the RTC to interpret the forfeiture provision in a way departing from its plain and express language.
Where the language of a rule is clear, it is the duty of the court to enforce it according to the plain meaning of the word. There is no occasion to resort to other means of interpretation.29