MANILA — Two former government officials tagged in the sugar importation mess on Tuesday defended their actions, citing the supposed "signals" they received from President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr.
During the second hearing of Senate Blue Ribbon committee on the "illegal" Sugar Order No. 4, former Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) chief Hermenegildo Serafica and Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian once again justified their decision to approve the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar, later invalidated by Malacañang.
"During the presidential briefing on Aug. 1 we presented the challenges in the sugar industry and the recommended courses of action. My last course of action was prepare a draft order on another importation program for SRA board approval," Serafica narrated.
"After everything was discussed, the President said submit an importation plan," he added.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros asked if Marcos was opposed to the idea of importation, to which Serafica replied: "I did not hear any objection at the point."
Sebastian also said Marcos was "informed" about the importation order.
"I informed the President that we have already approved the 300,000 metric tons sugar importation, that's why in my affidavit I was surprised he was not in agreement," Sebastian said.
On Aug. 10, the SRA uploaded in its website the document approving SO No. 4, prompting the Palace to nullify the order.
Meanwhile, Sen. Koko Pimentel asked what prompted Serafica and Sebastian to take such "dangerous course of action" and go ahead with importation without explicit approval from Marcos.
"Nagpapadala kayo ng text kay Executive Secretary [Vic] Rodriguez, hindi sinasagot. Tapos you will assume na 'yung di pagsagot ay approval na? Why did you go through a course of action na napakadelikado... Why not wait for the answer?" Pimentel asked.
(You sent a text to Executive Secretary Rodriguez, he did not reply, then you assumed that the lack of response was an approval? Why did you go through a course of action that was so dangerous?)"
According to Sebastian, "the situation was very urgent during this time."
"And based on my interactions with the President especially during the Aug. 1 meeting, there was really a big sense also expressed by the President that we have to act fast when it comes to addressing the sugar supply issue," Sebastian said.
"Picking up from all those signals, that gave me the sense [to proceed]," he added, admitting that it was his personal "perception."
Pimentel then asked the committee to summon again Rodriguez, who skipped the second hearing to attend a Cabinet meeting.
"Usec. Sebastian mentioned already the word 'signals.' All the more we need the ES Rodriguez before us so we can really ask him questions. Kasi pasok na tayo sa signals, hindi na ito in writing," Pimentel said.
(We are already discussing signals, these are not in writing.)
Meanwhile, Sebastian also informed the committee that Marcos has yet to approve his resignation from DA.
"As of now, I've been informed that I'm preventively suspended for 90 days," he said.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said, “Mayroon pa po kasi siyang (Sebastian) preventive suspension, kung hindi ako nagkakamali, so hindi pa po aaksyunan ang kaniyang status bilang kawani.”
(He is under preventive suspension, if I am not mistaken, so there is no action yet on his status as a government official.)
"Hihintayin po natin ang resulta ng imbestigasyon kaya hindi tayo mag-i-issue ng komento o response doon sa mga nangyayari habang ongoing pa po ang imbestigasyon," Cruz-Angeles added in a press briefing.
(We will will wait for the result of the investigation, so we will not issue a comment or response while the investigation is ongoing.)
The Palace recently said stakeholders agreed with a proposal to import around 150,000 metric tons of sugar during a meeting with Marcos. This is half of what the SRA's canceled resolution aimed to import.