Bersamin stands by sugar imports: ‘I take responsibility for any kind of haste’
MANILA, Philippines — Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin on Tuesday took up the cudgels for the controversial importation of 440,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar ahead of the issuance of Sugar Order No. 6 (SO6).
The alleged illegal entry of imported sugar shipments before the issuance of SO6 is the subject of an investigation by a joint panel in the Senate led by the blue ribbon committee.
Facing the Senate probe, Bersamin confirmed directing Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban to proceed with the issuance of SO6 and the eventual importation of the 440,000 MT of sugar.
“There was guidance from the President (Bobgbong Marcos), but I confirm that I was the one who instructed Undersecretary Panganiban to proceed with the processing of the sugar order and to attend to this issue of this importation,” Bersamin said, referring to Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban.
Panganiban, meanwhile, picked the three sugar importers— All Asian Countertrade, Sucden Philippines Inc. and Edison Lee Marketing Corporation— based on the list provided to him by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA.)
“The background of the three and others were considered by him (Pangabinan),” Bersamin pointed out, responding to queries of Senator Risa Hontiveros.
When Hontiveros asked if the choice of the three importers was also under the guidance of the President, Bersamin answered “not necessarily,” noting that it was him giving the instructions to Panganiban at that time.
During her questioning, Hontiveros remarked that Panganiban might have acted on his own and “in haste” and should therefore be held liable for his actions.
Bersamin disagreed with the senator, reiterating he was the one directly giving orders to Panganiban as the President was then busy with his schedules.
“So I take the responsibility for any kind of haste that might have attended this and if Undersecretary Panganiban made the choices, I could ratify those choices because I was acting in the interest of the president and this administration,” he said.
Earlier in the hearing, Panganiban justified the sugar importation upon the order of the President.
“The directive of the President to import sugar is a valid basis for allowing importers to import sugar,” he said.
According to him, “no specific law, rule, and regulation outlining the procedure for issuance of the sugar importation orders.”
“This is the reason why sugar orders issued by the SRA differ in amount, scope, conditions including the criteria for those to be given allocations to import sugar. Approving sugar importation is not exclusive to SRA. In fact, SRA is not even expressly granted authority by any law to regulate imported sugar,” he said.
But when the committee chairman, Senator Francis Tolentino, later asked about the basis of his remark, Panganiban referred to the “notes” given to him.