Sugar execs, resource persons told: Attend House hearing if you can go to your office | Inquirer News

Sugar execs, resource persons told: Attend House hearing if you can go to your office

/ 01:39 PM August 15, 2022

MANILA, Philippines — Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) officials and other resource persons involved in the sugar importation blunder came under fire from the House panel for not attending in person despite being able to videoconference at their respective offices.

During the joint briefing conducted by the House of Representatives committee on good government and public accountability and the committee on agriculture and food on Monday, Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga asked why resource personnel were allowed to participate remotely yet old members like himself attend sessions physically despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Barzaga voiced his displeasure after several resource persons, especially those from SRA, were not heard properly due to technical and connectivity issues.

“Madam Chair, I would like to make this comment. Well, actually, insofar as members of Congress are concerned, we have the rules that we can attend the Congressional briefing personally or even by Zoom. However, I noticed that our resource persons like Engineer Hermenegildo Serafica [are actually reporting for office,” Barzaga told public accountability chair Rep. Florida Robes.

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“I take reporting for office as compared to reporting for Congress; reporting for Congress is much more important considering that we are having our duty in aid of legislation pursuant to the constitution. And therefore, I would move that all resource persons be directed to appear personally in our hearing next Thursday unless they can show proof medical proof for medical reasons that they cannot go out of their house,” he added.

Robes acknowledged Barzaga’s motion, warning people who may not attend the hearing on Thursday — which will morph into a motu proprio investigation already — that they may be cited in contempt.

“Motion is accepted and carried, so I hope everybody heard it clear so meron tayong direksyon na dapat sa Huwebes kayo po ay nandito, personally.  I even asked our ComSec to ask everybody to come here personally with an RT-PCR (test), please, because we here in Congress we do daily antigen,” Robes said.

“So again, to all our resource speakers, especially on Thursday, please abide by the rules and, of course, with the request of this body, otherwise, everybody will be [held] in contempt,” she added.

Abono party-list Rep. Robert Raymund Estrella meanwhile requested that all resource persons be directed to bring documents with them regarding the importation of sugar, as well as other files that may be relevant to explain the state of the country’s sugar industry.

“Madam Chair, may I also request since they are coming here just to make sure na dala naman nila lahat ng papeles nila, ‘pag may hiningi po tayong data, hard copies, and also send to the secretariat so that when we ask questions from them, they cannot say ‘I did not bring it, I’m sorry, I don’t have it here’,” he said.

“So it does not make sense to have a meeting. So please come prepared,” he added.

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Currently, the two committees are conducting a briefing on the issue, after President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. himself rejected the proposal to import an additional 300,000 metric tons of sugar. However, the House panels are only labeling the meeting as a briefing and not as an investigation, as before Monday, lawmakers had no official move to call for a hearing on the issue.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said that Marcos Jr., who concurrently heads the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the absence of a secretary, rejected it as head of the SRA board.

The President’s decision came after the issuance of Sugar Order No. 4, which was signed on his behalf supposedly without his knowledge. Agriculture Undersecretary for Operations Leocadio Sebastian and other DA and SRA officials who signed it are under investigation.

Marcos Jr. said in a vlog Sunday night that the country may have to import sugar if production drops. Typhoon Odette devastated sugar-producing districts like Negros in 2022.

However, the Chief Executive noted that what needs to be imported would be less than 300,000 metric tons, which would be done around October.

Several sugar milling groups welcomed Marcos Jr.’s decision, arguing that domestic producers would be disadvantaged by the influx of imported sugar due to falling prices caused by the surplus of supply.

Also, groups noted that five mills in Negros Occidental have already resumed operations, which may ensure supply in the coming months.

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TAGS: House hearing, sugar
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