SRA exec points to memo as reason for crafting sugar import order without Marcos’ nod
MANILA, Philippines — The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) official who signed Sugar Order No. 4 — an attempt to import 300,000 metric tons of sugar into the country that was foiled by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. — referred to a memorandum as the authority of his actions.
During the joint hearing of the House of Representatives’ committee on good government and public accountability and the committee on agriculture and food regarding the motu proprio investigation on the sugar importation mess, former Department of Agriculture (DA) undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian was asked by several lawmakers why he crafted the said order.
Sebastian told lawmakers at the hearing on Monday that he used a memo authored by Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez as an authority, along with the pressing need for sugar importation to offset a looming shortage.
“The strength, that authority that I used is that memo on July 15, 2022, and considering the data […] and analyses that have been presented, that the sugar supply is really very low, and there is an impending — there is already a very high price of sugar and the impending shortage of sugar in the coming months,” he said.
“All data showed that the deficit, the required sugar supply shortage is more than the 300,000 that is being proposed,” he added.
Sebastian’s answer came after he was pressed by Quezon 2nd District Rep. David Suarez on why he crafted the said order knowing that the President has not agreed to it yet.
Suarez asked Sebastian if Malacañang replied favorably to the proposed sugar importation plan, which was sent out in an e-mail. In reply, Sebastian — who was a part of the SRA and the one who signed SO No. 4 — said that only a confirmation of Malacaãng’s receipt was made.
“San kayo kumuha ng lakas ng loob? Unang-una, may e-mail na kayo, hindi kayo sumagot. Pangalawa, ang ginawa ninyo, mag-referendum na lang tayo, tignan natin ‘yong boto ng mga members natin. Umoo sila pero ‘wag nating ipaalam sa management ng SRA. Kaso lang biglang lumabas, nagkaroon ng SO No. 4,” Suarez asked.
“Ang hindi ko pa rin matanto sa isip ko, ipipirma mo pa ‘yong Presidente eh hindi ka nga nakakuha ng approval sa kanya. So ang tanong ko, saan po kayo kumuha at humugot ng lakas ng loob para gawin ‘yong ginawa ninyo because it seems […] the 300,000 metric tons was wrong, because after your act, after you resigned, the President […] realized ‘hindi pala 300,000 ang kailangan nating i-import’,” he added.
During her turn to interpellate, Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro also questioned the resolve of the SRA officials in signing for Marcos despite the possibility of repercussions.
“Sa pagdedesisyon ninyo, ‘pag gano’n po ba, is it parang ministerial ba ‘yong pagpirma ng chairman or talagang kailangan pang i-sought ‘yong kanyang pagpayag? Kasi bakit Madam Chair, napakatapang ano, napakatapang no’ng pumirma in behalf of the President kung talagang wala silang clue na pumapayag si President?” she asked.
“Ang lakas ng loob na magpirma for and behalf of the President, na tingin naman nila ay magkakaroon ng repercussion ito,” she added.
Sebastian gave similar answers, adding though that meetings with Marcos and Rodriguez gave him the impression of an urgent need to import.
“The urgency of the situation, Madam Chair, and based on my interaction with the President during the August 1 meeting, and also on the feedback of the meeting of Administrator Serafica — again with the President, Executive Secretary, and Board Member Valderrama on August 4, wherein they came out with a sugar importation program that I transmitted to the President,” he said.
“That gave me the inclination, that gave me the feeling that there is an urgency of this matter, and that we need to act as soon as possible Madam Chair. And that I also expressed in my memo to the President on August 5 that the Board will meet as soon as possible to decide on that Sugar Order No. 4 […] that’s why I said I may have misread the intent of the President,” he added.
Public accounts committee chair and San Jose del Monte Rep. Florida Robes gave the same observations, but Sebastian stressed that he did not sign for President Marcos, but only for the Agriculture Secretary.
When Robes pointed out that Marcos is actually the Secretary, Sebastian replied by noting that the memorandum from Rodriguez gave him authority to sit as ex-officio member of the SRA board.
“Yes, Madam Chair, but under Memo of July 15, I was given that delegation of authorities to sit ex-officio, as ex-officio chair of the SRA Board,” Sebastian told Robes.
The House panels are currently probing the foiled attempt to import sugar into the country, after Malacañang revealed that Sugar Order No. 4 was signed on Marcos’ behalf without his knowledge.
Marcos’ administration vowed an investigation on the issue, saying that Sebastian and other DA and SRA officials who signed it are being probed.
Marcos in a vlog admitted that there may 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.
Eventually, the Chief Executive authorized the importation of 150,000 metric tons of sugar to address the shortage.
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