Solons want briefing on unauthorized sugar importation turned into probe
MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers from the House of Representatives have asked that the briefing on the unauthorized sugar importation — which was blocked by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. — be turned into a full-blown investigation already.
Several members of the House committee on good government and public accountability, as well as the committee on agriculture and food, said on Monday that Sugar Order Nos. 3 and 4 of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), which called for importation, should be probed as many sectors agree with Marcos Jr.’s move.
Abang Lingkod party-list Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano also said that he could not ask pressing questions about the issue as the joint hearing by both panels is not an inquiry.
“Mr. Chair, just a point of clarification, this hearing is just a briefing. So expectedly, this representation and most, if not all, the members of Congress in this 19th Congress from Negros Occidental, which is you know for a fact [that] we are the sugar bowl of this country, we’re expecting that this will not end in this briefing,” Paduano asked agriculture committee chair and Quezon 1st District Rep. Wilfrido Enverga.
“Personally I cannot ask questions — those questions relative to SO No. 3 and SO No. 4 deeply, Mr. Chairman, because this is just a briefing, and again, we expect an investigation on these issues, Mr. Chairman, that concerns the sugar industry,” he added.
Negros Occidental 4th District Rep. Juliet Marie Ferrer supported Paduano’s stand, saying that an inquiry would put resource persons including those from SRA to be under oath, which allows statements they give during hearings to be used against them.
“I just want to make a manifestation, I just want to support the position of Congressman Paduano, that there should be an inquiry so that our resource persons would be under oath and whatever they say, it can be held against them,” she added.
Enverga said that they also want to convert the briefing into an inquiry eventually, but they cannot do so without a resolution forwarded to the respective committee during the plenary session.
“Just to clarify to everyone, this is initially a briefing. In the absence, of course, of an official referral of a bill seeking an inquiry in aid of legislation, we cannot take action on that yet. So at least we are starting to get briefed on the current situation, so sooner than later we will definitely convert this officially into an inquiry,” he noted.
But Paduano said that the two committees could actually call for a motu proprio investigation within the House rules.
“Under our rules, we can also move for a motu proprio (investigation) as long as we follow the rules of this committee and of the same time, of this House. But of course, this is just a briefing. We’ll wait for that,” Paduano, who was the former minority floor leader of the 18th Congress, said.
“I think, Mr. Chairman, there is an exigency and urgency in this matter, so I hope the chairman, both chairman after this briefing, the committee will decide — either we will wait for a resolution or motu proprio we’ll have our investigation following all the rules of the House and this committee,” he added.
Public accountability committee chair and San Jose del Monte Rep. Florida Robes said that the briefing would officially be an inquiry on the next meeting, which would be held on Thursday.
Robes said this is also why Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga asked for the physical attendance of all resource persons, as some were unable to present their views and position due to technical and connectivity issues.
Barzaga, during the early part of the hearing, admonished resource persons, particularly those from the SRA, who are unable to attend the Congressional hearing but can do video conferencing from their respective offices.
“Yes it is duly noted, there is actually, we have a timeline here. On Thursday we will definitely proceed with the inquiry and all will be held (under) oath. So lahat po ay magte-take oath sa Thursday, kaya po ni-require din po ng ating mahal na kaibigan Congressman Barzaga that everybody should come here in person,” Robes said.
“Hindi ho pwedeng proxy, hindi ho pwedeng online that this is a very, very toxic thing for us,” she added.
The move to allow sugar importation became an issue after President Marcos Jr. rejected the proposal to bring in an additional 300,000 metric tons of sugar — mandated by Sugar Order No. 4, allegedly signed on his behalf without his knowledge.
Marcos’ administration vowed an investigation on the issue, saying that Agriculture Undersecretary for Operations Leocadio Sebastian and other DA and SRA officials who signed it are being probed.
In a vlog on Sunday night, Marcos admitted that there might be a need to import sugar from other countries if supply runs out — due to lower production as key sugar-producing provinces were hit by Typhoon Odette late into 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.
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