Panel raps 4 over sugar mess; Hontiveros sees ‘fall guys’ | Inquirer News

Panel raps 4 over sugar mess; Hontiveros sees ‘fall guys’

Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros

Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros —Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines — After conducting three hearings, the Senate blue ribbon committee on Thursday recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against President Marcos’ former chief of staff in the Department of Agriculture (DA) and three resigned officials of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Board for issuing an order to import 300,000 tons of sugar supposedly without authority from Malacañang.

In its committee report, the Senate panel asked the Ombudsman to file graft charges against Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, former SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, and board members Roland Beltran and Aurelio Valderrama Jr. for alleged corrupt practices, violation of Republic Act No. 10845, or the anti-agricultural smuggling law, and usurpation of authority.


Signed by 14 senators with opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros as the sole dissenter, the committee report said the four officials were found to have committed acts of “serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and gross insubordination under the revised rules on administrative cases in the civil service.”


Committee chair Sen. Francis Tolentino, however, declined to disclose who among the 20 members voted in favor of the committee report.

The report wraps up the hearings of the Senate committee on good government and public accountability on the fiasco whipped up by the unauthorized issuance a month ago of Sugar Order No. 4, which sought to import 300,000 tons of sugar.

Sebastian has been placed under preventive suspension as the DA secretary’s chief of staff, while Serafica, Beltran and Valderrama have since resigned.

The minority bloc, however, expressed disagreement with the committee report.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said they would issue a separate minority report on the investigation, as he expressed compassion for Sebastian and the three former SRA officials.

“These are the basic facts: there were people who were persistently asking for approval or a decision or feedback, and they request for info or advice or decision, and they were purposely not replied to, and now you want them to go to jail?” he said.


“I believe we should be more forgiving this time because what we saw in the hearings is the miscommunication or lack of communication (between Malacañang and the SRA),” Pimentel added.

Hontiveros expressed concern that the committee report made the four current and former officials as mere “fall guys” when their action was overturned by Mr. Marcos.

“Of course, the President can retract orders and override policy, but I believe Sebastian when he says he was, [in] good faith, of the belief that the importation not only was necessary, it had the support of the Chief Executive,” she said.

Hontiveros expressed concern that “throwing the kitchen sink” at Sebastian and the former SRA officials would only discourage government personnel from acting with urgency on matters that affect consumers.


“Baseless and false.” This was how Valderrama called the accusations hurled by the Senate committee.

“While the outcome of the report is against our interest, I truly believe that we were already prejudged during the hearing. The graft and corruption charges, smuggling charges, etc. are baseless and false accusations,” said Valderrama.

“Rest assured that I will face the cases that they are going to file against me head on, at the proper time and at the proper forum… before an impartial body,” he added.

Valderrama said Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez earlier declared there was no urgency to import sugar, but in a Zoom meeting on Aug. 4, the President himself wanted to have an importation plan as soon as possible.

“Rodriguez was in that Zoom meeting with the President,” he said.

In that meeting, Valderrama said the President said “maybe we can import around 600,000 (tons of sugar).”

“We had a Zoom meeting and I can prove that. We are being made scapegoats now. It’s not fair. It stresses me, my wife and my family. Somebody is lying,” he said.

Valderrama said he did not know where the accusation linking him to smuggling came from.

“How am I able to defend myself when I was not even given five minutes to talk at the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing?” he asked.

“They’re accusing me now of graft and corruption, of smuggling. Where did they get that? Just because they are senators they can do this to me?” he said.

“In a way, we expected this outcome but we kept our faith in the process. It is just unfortunate though that despite the pieces of evidence that we presented, they were not given weight,” Serafica said in a separate statement.

“For now, the best recourse would be to wait for the investigation of the concerned agencies. I will remain cooperative. My conscience is clear. I have nothing to hide,” he added.

Rodriguez cleared

Tolentino told reporters that the committee cleared Rodriguez of any liability based on the testimonies and evidence presented to the blue ribbon.

“There is such an offense for simple neglect of duty, but even in that, circumstances did not qualify,” he said.

Tolentino said he would present the committee report for ratification by the plenary on Monday.

According to the senator, the facts established by the investigation would show that the four officials “went beyond what was expected of them,” which, he said, bordered on usurpation.

He claimed the four officials were liable for usurpation because they acted on a matter that was subject for the approval of their superior, and that they should have acted as a board.

Sebastian and the SRA board could not invoke good faith because they should not have interpreted as implied approval the nonreply of Rodriguez on their follow-up on the status of SO 4, Tolentino said.

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The committee also directed the issuance of copies of the report to the Bureau of Immigration to include the names of Sebastian, Serafica, Beltran and Valderrama in the agency’s immigration lookout bulletin.—WITH A REPORT FROM JORDEENE B. LAGARE

Serafica: President eyed 600,000 MT sugar imports; Rodriguez denies it


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