Tolentino refers sugar import probe report to Senate plenary

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 12 2022 09:31 PM

MANILA - The Senate Blue Ribbon's Committee Report No. 3, containing the panel's findings on the recent sugar importation fiasco, was formally referred Monday to the plenary.

The report recommended to the Office of the Ombudsman the filing of complaints against suspended Agriculture official Leocadio Sebastian, and resigned Sugar Regulatory Administration chief Hermenegildo Serafica and ex-Board Members Roland Beltran and Aurelio Valderrama.

The four officials, according to the report, committed "serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and gross insubordination under the revised rules on administrative cases in the civil service."

The committee recommends that the following charges be initiated against them:

  • one count of violation of Section 3A of Republic Act 3019 otherwise known as the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act
  • one count of violation of Section 3E of the Anti-graft and corrupt practices act
  • one count of violation on the provision of Republic Act 10845 otherwise known as the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016
  • one count of usurpation functions defined and penalized under article 177 of the revised penal code.

In a speech during Monday's session, Sen. Francis Tolentino, chair of the panel, said "politicization of issues" were "dispensed with" during the inquiry regarding the issuance of Sugar Order No. 4 that Malacanang declared as illegal.

"We focused our energies and resources on the issue at hand – whether there was really a real need to import sugar. If there was none, who authorized the importation to the detriment of the Philippine sugar industry?” said Tolentino, an ally of the administration.

The committee's 75-page report, according to Tolentino, is solely motivated by his intention to protect the welfare and interest of some “800,000” sugar farmers.

“By stating that the aim of the Blue Ribbon Committee is to search for the truth and nothing but the truth, an inquiry in aid of legislation of Congress is not a fishing expedition or a witch hunt with no end in sight. Rather, it is the responsible and judicious exercise of a constitutional power granted by the people to whom sovereignty resides,” Tolentino said.

The report, signed by 14 out of the 17 members, said the current three-man SRA Board with the sitting Agriculture secretary as ex-officio member, must be increased to eight for a more inclusive body that could produce more sound judgment and recommendations.

The panel said it sees the need to amend Executive Order Number 18 creating the SRA, specifically the expansion of its Board and including representatives of industrial and household consumers, sugar industry workers, sugar transportation sector, and other stakeholders in the sugar industry. It should also prohibit the delegation of the authority of the SRA board to reclassify sugar.

There is also a need to review and rationalize the country’s importation policy, the formulation of which solely resides at present with the SRA Board.

The committee called for “more transparency and accountability” on agencies involved in sugar importation.

Other recommendations of the committee are the following:

  • full funding for the SIDA law or Republic Act 10659
  • the SRA immediately prepare a sugar importation plan with appropriate safeguards clearly specified for review of higher authorities

The panel also concluded that “the SRA Supply Data and the preponderance of the evidence presented to the Committee indicate that there may have been an actual sugar shortage or at the very least anticipated sugar supply shortfalls prior to the issuance of Sugar Order No. 4.”

The following senators signed the committee report: Tolentino, Cynthia Villar, head of the agriculture committee; Blue Ribbon vice chairmen Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and Christopher “Bong” Go; members Sherwin Gatchalian; JV Ejercito; Jinggoy Estrada; Imee Marcos; Raffy Tulfo; Robinhood Padilla, and Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros signed, but with a note “I dissent. We will submit a Minority Report.”

Other members Senators. Pia Cayetano and Sonny Angara signed, but affixed the notes “may interpellate” and “for further debate,” respectively.

The following panel members did not sign: Alan Peter Cayetano, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr., Grace Poe, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Nancy Binay and Francis Escudero.

Ex-officio members who also did not sign the report are: Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, and Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda.

The Senate suspended the period of interpellation for the report to give panel members time to study it.

The Senate Minority Bloc, composed of Pimentel and Hontiveros, is also set to make public its own report on the issue.


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