MANILA — President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. was "aware" of the Sugar Regulatory Administration's (SRA) intention to import sugar way before it issued the controversial Sugar Order (SO) No. 4 later nullified by Malacañang, according to the official tagged in the controversy.
During the second Senate Blue Ribbon investigation into the "sugar fiasco," Department of Agriculture (DA) undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian said they informed Marcos about their proposal to import sugar to address the depleting supply of the said product.
“There were two things that the President want to act fast... which he expressed during that meeting, that is one, redirect classification, we have to do it as soon as possible, reclassification from reserved to domestic use of sugar. Second, the need to augment our local supplies through importation,” Sebastian said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros then asked: “Was that explicitly said by the President?”
Sebastian answered in the affirmative.
“Yes. That was one of the part of the briefing SRA Administrator gave and also the President agreed there's a need to consider that. In fact, [Sugar Regulatory] administration [Hermenegildo] Serafica was given instruction to start preparing a sugar importation program,” Sebastian said.
According to Sebastian, the "instruction" to draft the program meant that Marcos was aware of the plan.
"There was also the August 4 meeting where I got the feedback from Administrator Serafica when he emailed me that he was instructed to actually draft the sugar importation program by the President. And if you are instructed to draft the sugar importation program, that means they are already aware that there's an importation that has been planned," Sebastian explained.
In the previous hearing, Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez said the Palace was "surprised" by SRA's SO No. 4 since Marcos has yet to approve the importation plan.
Meanwhile, the head of a sugar miller’s group said the volume indicated in SO No. 4 was based on the recommendation of industry stakeholders.
Pablo Lobregat, Philippine Sugar Millers Association president, told the panel they were the one who recommended to government to import 300,000 metric tons of sugar to ensure a steady supply.
“Our average monthly consumption is roughly around 170,000 to 200,000 metric tons. In other words, by the end of this month, there will be practically nothing left of raw… We need to have 450,000 metric tons of sugar, raw and combined, to carry us over the next three months, September, October November,” Lobregat said.
Their submitted sugar volume was based on the data given to them by the SRA, Lobregat said.
The group meantime registered its disgust over the Bureau of Customs’ raiding of their warehouse in Bukidnon province.
What’s in warehouse, he said, are their 22,000 metric tons of stocked sugar, which they will use in the coming months until their next supply arrives in November.
The BOC meantime reported a total of 31 conducted operations covering 1,176,010 sacks of imported and local sugar.
Still, senators pressed for the real objective of these operations, which included a ship carrying sugar, still being held in Subic, Zambales.
“Liwanagin mo nga ang visitorial powers na sinasagawa ninyo. Kumpara mo sa raid. Kasi pag raid may kinukumpiska. Pag visitorial, bumibisita lang,” panel chairman Sen. Francis Tolentino asked.
Acting Customs Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz meantime explained: “We conduct inspection to check of the goods inside have paid the necessary taxes. This is not a raid. We give the warehouse owner 15 days to present documents necessary to prove that goods inside that warehouse have indeed been paid.”
But this did sit well with Sen. Raffy Tulfo who grilled Ruiz about the agency’s misdetection of well-documented shipments.
“Kung kayo po ay madaling magpataw ng penalty sa mga nagkakasala na mga kargamento, dapat ho may penalty din sa BOC na nagkakamali. This time clear na pumalpak po ang Bureau of Customs... Wala po bang penalty sa BOC for that?” Tulfo asked.
“It is part of our mandate to verify if said goods are imported and we have to diligently do our job regarding that,” Yogi explained.
SRA Deputy Administrator Guillermo Tejida III pointed out that BOC operations were unauthorized.
“They do not categorically state who ordered but from the point of view of SRA like that one in Subic, the inspection was conducted maybe after some time afternoon until evening and a personnel of Bureau of Customs actually came to the office on a holiday to seek a verification whether this shipment was cleared by the SRA,” Tejida said.
He added: “What really transpired was that I was shocked myself to hear the news, my signature appeared on that certain clearance from the SRA which was claimed to have been fake.”
The panel's next hearing on the issue will resume next week. - report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News
Senate, senator, senators, blue ribbon, senate blue ribbon, sugar, asukal, sugar importation, Hermenegildo Serafica, Leocadio Sebastian