Marcos accepts resignation of SRA chief Alba
President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has accepted the resignation of embattled Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) chief David Thaddeus Alba after holding the post for only seven months, Malacañang announced on Friday.
Alba’s resignation followed the controversial importation of 440,000 metric tons of sugar in February, which was allegedly allocated to three “handpicked” importers.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros sought a Senate inquiry into the importation, saying that the three importers involved in what she described as a “government-sponsored” sugar smuggling must be blacklisted if irregularities were found.
In a statement, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said Alba met with Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin on Wednesday informing him of his resignation, citing health reasons.
“ES Bersamin persuaded him not to, but he reasoned his worsening health condition,” the PCO said.
The PCO said that according to the President’s directive, Alba’s resignation would take effect on April 15 “to prepare for the appointment of his replacement.”
Before Marcos appointed him to the top SRA post in August last year, Alba, 59, was serving as general manager of Asociacion de Agricultores de La Carlota y Pontevedra Inc., one of the largest groups of sugar planters in the country.
The SRA is an agency under the Department of Agriculture (DA), which Marcos concurrently heads.
Defending the controversial sugar imports, Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban last month insisted that there was “nothing irregular” in the importation.
Panganiban said the President was aware of it and “was properly informed” when the imported sugar was shipped to the country on Feb. 9.
He told reporters that a Jan. 13 memorandum from Bersamin, which was authorized by the President, allowed the importation of 450,000 MT of sugar.
The order came after Panganiban recommended to the President to import 100,000 MT to be classified as domestic sugar and 350,000 MT to be classified as reserves.
Sugar industry leaders said they believe the SRA will continue fulfilling its mandate of promoting the growth of the industry’s development despite Alba’s resignation.
SRA board member Pablo Luis Azcona said on Friday that the DA informed the board during its March 20 meeting that Alba submitted his “irrevocable resignation” to the offices of Bersamin and Panganiban on March 16.
Still ‘well organized’
Pablo Lobregat, president of Philippine Sugar Millers Association Inc., told the Inquirer that the SRA board “should not cease to function” because it still had a quorum and had been “very well organized” for over 30 years.
He said the board members included the DA secretary, the planters’ representative and the millers’ representative, with only the SRA administrator missing.
National Federation of Sugarcane Planters Inc. president Enrique Rojas questioned the timing of Alba’s resignation amid the controversial sugar importation order but said that he respected the SRA chief’s decision.
“However, people can’t help wondering if his resignation has something to do with the current sugar importation, which is highly questionable, to say the least,” Rojas said in a statement.
“Under these circumstances, we laud SRA Administrator Dave Alba’s decision to resign, and thus remove himself from any further involvement in this questionable importation,” he added.
The three companies that were allowed to procure imported sugar were All Asian Countertrade Inc., Edison Lee Marketing Corp. and S&D Sucden Philippines Inc.
Edison Lee and All Asian refused to comment when asked for a reaction to the controversy by the Inquirer. S&D Sucden could not be reached.
Rojas said it was the first time that sugar was imported before an order allowing it had been issued and it was also the first time that Malacañang had ordered the SRA to release the “illegally imported sugar,” which he called a usurpation of the sugar body’s “exclusive mandate” to regulate supply.
Manuel Lamata, president of the United Sugar Producers Federation, said he was saddened by Alba’s resignation but added that “if it’s your health on the line then that surpasses all.”
Lack of consistency
But Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. president Danilo Fausto said that “frequent changes in leadership will result in lack of consistency and predictability in the implementation of programs and policies of DA.”
The DA needs leaders who have integrity, honesty and conviction to implement programs and policies to assist farmers and fisherfolk nationwide, he said.
“Personnel of DA should be inspired, encouraged and professionalized and good performance be properly recognized and rewarded in order to have a well organized, effective and structured bureaucracy so that program implementation will be swift and precise,” Fausto said.
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