Hontiveros: Other execs ‘gun-shy’ in signing import docs, ‘baka ma-Sebastian’
MANILA, Philippines — The blame for the sugar importation mess has been laid at the feet of Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, discouraging other agriculture officials from signing importation documents, Senator Risa Hontiveros said Thursday.
She said that while she concurred with the findings of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the sugar importation fiasco, which recommended the filing of charges against officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), including Sebastian, she believed that it discouraged other officials from acting with urgency on matters affecting consumers.
“If the President wanted to recall [Sugar Order No. 4], it is perfectly within his province to do so but to throw everything but the kitchen sink on Usec. Sebastian — na hindi naman kumita, wala namang kinubrang pera [who did not profit and get kickback] — discourages government officials from acting with urgency on matters that affect consumers, like tight supply, high prices and inflations,” she lamented in a statement.
“In fact, DA insiders say that department officials are now gun-shy about signing any importation documents. ‘Baka ma-Sebastian,’ further exacerbating the food shortage,” she continued.
The opposition senator likewise believed that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who concurrently serves as DA chief, supported the proposed importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar, and that “fall guys” were involved.
“With due respect to the Chair, tila may ginawang (it seems there were) fall guys. But, of course, the President can retract orders and override policy, but I believe Usec. [Leocadio] Sebastian when he says he was of the good faith belief that the importation not only was necessary, it had the support of the Chief Executive,” she said.
Hontiveros reiterated the queries she had in mind: “What are they hiding? What is the real score? Why did the ES (executive secretary) need to be subpoenaed, and why did he not disclose the August 4 meeting with the President in the first instance?”
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee earlier issued a subpoena against Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez, who skipped hearings on the issue under Marcos’ order.
Hontiveros likewise said that photos of sugar in warehouses “need to be seen against the data.”
In a previous hearing, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri presented photos, which he dubbed “a sea of sugar,” and asserted that there is no sugar shortage.
The Blue Ribbon Committee is investigating Sugar Order No. 4 — authorizing the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar — which the SRA posted on its website.
Malacañang contradicted the order, saying that Marcos rejected such a proposal.