Senators quiz agri officials, traders over 'irregular' sugar shipments

Jervis Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 23 2023 09:00 PM

MANILA -- The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Tuesday resumed its investigation into the controversial sugar shipments that entered the country via Sugar Order No. 6.

Agriculture senior undersecretary Domingo Panganiban attended the hearing, which was supposedly scheduled earlier this month but postponed due to his absence.

During the hearing, Sen. Risa Hontiveros quizzed the officials on why sugar shipments were transported despite the lack of a final sugar order.

Hontiveros earlier labelled the sugar fiasco as large-scale government-sponsored smuggling.

"Kahit anong pumasok na sugar pag walang sugar order di compliant sa batas?" Hontiveros asked.

"Depende sa SRA sa binigay ng board," Panganiban answered.

Hontiveros further asked Panganiban: "Kung walang sugar order pero may pumasok na sugar sa bansa, paglabag sa batas?"

"Hindi ko po alam," the DA official replied.

Hontiveros also questioned how the 3 allegedly favored traders were selected.

Panganiban said it was the President who ordered the importation and that he called for a meeting where 4 to 5 traders were present.

Hontiveros proceeded to verify the capability of the sugar traders despite some documents saying one of them had questionable financial capacity for such large transaction.

Representatives of 2 of the 3 companies said they were indeed capable.

Meanwhile, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin said that based on his interpretation of the law, a sugar order is not needed prior to the arrival of imports in the country.

Senate Blue Ribbon committee chair Sen. Francis Tolentino seemed convinced with Bersamin's assertion.

"Si executive secretary being a former Chief Justice may alam sa batas yan," Tolentino said.

But Hontiveros remains unsatisfied with the explanation.

"Ano ginawa nila? Nag-declare ng open season sa unregulated importation ng mga agricultural products? Kahit mga regulated products? Bakit pa natin sinasabing regulated products kung hindi nila ire-regulate? Are we just blowing the whole system wide open, hindi ganyan ang paggogobyerno at hindi dapat pumayag ang Kongreso lalo na ang Senado," she said.

Tolentino advised the public to wait for the committee report to be released soon.