ES Rodriguez’s role in sugar import mess raised, questioned during Senate hearing
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday questioned Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez’s role in the sugar importation controversy.
The Senate is conducting an inquiry into the Sugar Regulatory Administration’s (SRA) supposed approval for the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar – which President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. later voided. Marcos Jr. concurrently sits as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA).
Hontiveros, during the Senate blue ribbon panel’s hearing, asked whether there are “crossed lines” among the Palace, DA, and SRA.
She noted that the Palace had referred to Sugar Order No. 4 as illegal since it was released “beyond the authority of the entity that issued it.”
“Wala raw authority si dating Undersecretary [Leocadio] Sebastian (They claimed that former Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian had no authority to do this). But is that true? How can it be illegal when it was [ES Vic Rodriguez] himself who issued a memorandum dated July 15, 2022, authorizing Usec. Sebastian to sit as ex-officio chairman or member of all duly constituted committees, councils, boards or bodies where the DA Secretary is a member,” the legislator said.
The memorandum being referred to by Hontiveros was on Sebastian’s designation as DA undersecretary, indicating additional authorities and tasks to sign contracts, memorandums of agreement, administrative issuances, and administrative and financial documents.
Hontiveros further raised: “Why was it not immediately brought to the attention of the President by the ES that there was a new sugar order meant to bring in 300,000 metric tons of sugar? Nag-meeting na pala sila ng August 4 (They already had a meeting on August 4). And the intent to import was already clear then.”
She then pointed out that Sebastian had already sent the draft of the importation plan, along with the memorandum of the President last August 5.
“Ibig sabihin po, alam ni ES Rodriguez na may umiikot na draft order. An order that received support from stakeholders of the sugar industry. Did he mention this at all to his principal? Hindi ba dapat ang ES pinoprotektahan ang Pangulo? Hindi ba dapat ang ES gatekeeper?” Hontiveros added.
(That means, ES Rodriguez knew there was an existing draft order, which received support from stakeholders of the sugar industry. Did he mention this at all to his principal? Shouldn’t the ES protect the President? Shouldn’t the ES serve as a gatekeeper?)
The lawmaker raised more questions on the matter: “Bakit may packaging na niloloko ang Pangulo? Bakit pinapalabas na may paglilinlang? Why suggest na first time mo nadinig na may Sugar Order No. 4 when you were informed and kept in the loop as early as August 5?”
(Why is it being packaged as if the President was deceived? Why suggest it was the first time they heard of Sugar Order No. 4 when they were informed and kept in the loop as early as August 5?)
Hontiveros said she also wants to look into what Rodriguez thought of the 100,000 metric tons of standby sugar stocks requested by the SRA to be imported by Philippine International Trading Corporation.
“They knew this was a proposal. Was this acted upon? Was this to counter the hoarders?” she asked.
The opposition senator reiterated that this sugar import fiasco underscores the need to appoint a new Agriculture Secretary to prevent incidents like this from happening again.
“Nobody is helped by disorganized leadership – not industry, not the traders, not the producers, and certainly not the consumers,” she said. “This was not only about one man misinterpreting intent and acting outside powers. Ultimately, this is the fallout of a messy, haphazard bureaucracy. Huwag na natin i-minimize ang damage na nagawa nito (Let’s not minimize the damage this has caused).”
Although she expressed appreciation for Rodriquez who earlier faced the Senate blue ribbon panel, Hontiveros maintained that there are questions still left unanswered by the Executive Secretary.
Together with Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Kiko” Pimentel, she moved to recall Rodriguez to answer such questions before the Senate committee.
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