MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Saturday told certain unnamed officials of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to resign because the Senate will soon be investigating the corruption in the agency.
In a radio interview, Zubiri was furious at SRA officials he did not name who supposedly convinced resigned Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian to sign, on behalf of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., an importation order widely opposed by sugar producers.
Sebastian resigned on Thursday and apologized to the president, who is concurrently the agriculture secretary, for the approval of Sugar Order No. 4, which authorized the importation of 300,000 tons of sugar.
Zubiri said he spoke with Marcos when officials of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao took their oaths in Malacañang on Friday and the president was furious at the SRA mess.
“I am glad that Undersecretary Sebastian has resigned. But my question is: why have all the other members of the SRA board not resigned yet?” asked Zubiri, whose father, Bukidnon Rep. Jose Ma. Zubiri, originated from sugar-producing Negros Occidental.
Blue Ribbon probe
Zubiri said he would ask the Senate blue ribbon committee, either through a privilege speech or a Senate resolution, to investigate the alleged corruption in the SRA.
“Cases should be filed against [SRA officials] as they have put [Marcos] in trouble. Shame on them! They should now resign and be charged to teach them a lesson,” he said.
Zubiri said the unnamed SRA officials tried to mislead the public by claiming that the country was facing a sugar shortage and pushed through with the importation of sugar while sugar planters were in the middle of the harvest season.
Zubiri said he had documents to show that they pushed for the importation of 200,000 tons of sugar, although there were still 127,000 tons in storage.
The SRA even defied temporary restraining orders issued by two courts in Negros Occidental in February and falsely claimed that the order only applied to the province, Zubiri said.
Zubiri claimed that corrupt SRA officials could get kickbacks of P50 to P100 per bag of sugar. There are 2 million bags per 100,000 tons of sugar, equivalent to P300 to P600 million for 300,000 tons, he added.
“My God! Is this a sendoff gift for those officials in holdover positions from the previous administration?” he said, apparently referring to SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, who was appointed by former President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017.
Serafica has refused to vacate the top SRA post, arguing that he is covered by Republic Act No. 10149, or the GOCC Governance Act of 2011 and that his position is not co-terminus with the president who appointed him.
Zubiri lamented that the corruption at the SRA was systemic. “So this is really disgusting because they are doing it to the detriment of our local farmers,” he said.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers are also demanding an investigation of the SRA brouhaha.
“There should be an in-depth investigation and those behind the attempt to import 300,000 metric tons of sugar at the start of the harvest season should be punished,” said House deputy minority leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro.
AGRI Rep. Wilbert Lee agreed that those behind Sugar Order No. 4 should be held accountable.
“It’s good news that the president caught the resolution that was signed without his authorization. Whoever in the SRA did this is thick-faced, has audacity and an evil soul,” he said in a statement.
“Everyone who has something to do with this illegal resolution should be held accountable, no one should be allowed to go scot-free,” Lee added.