What the probe into the sugar import mess aims to determine

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 16 2022 09:33 PM

composite


Palace: ES Rodriguez had no role in illegal reso 

MANILA — Three key officials from the Sugar Regulatory Administration and its board have already resigned from their posts nearly a week after they signed a resolution calling for sugar imports that Malacañang deemed "illegal," as questions mount on what really started the controversy. 

Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian was the first to resign on Thursday, admitting to the lapses he made for signing Sugar Order No. 4, a document approving the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar on behalf of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. 

In his letter, Sebastian said he was taking accountability for what happened.

The order, signed Aug. 10, aimed to address the country's limited sugar supply and its soaring prices, with the signatories noting that the raw sugar balance will be less than 35,231 by the end of the month. 

But hours after the document's release to the media, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said Marcos denied the proposal for sugar imports, saying it was not his signature on the document. 

Along those who signed were Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, SRA board member Roland Beltran, and SRA acting board member Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama.

Serafica and Beltran have tendered their resignations this week, documents from Malacañang showed, but Cruz-Angeles had said that resignations would not mean that officials would be off the hook from possible complaints.

All those who signed are still under investigation, which will be headed by Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs Atty. Richard Palpalatoc, she said.

IMPORTATION PLAN

The Press Secretary said that the controversial resolution was only supposed to be an importation plan, as authorities sought to determine whether or not an importation is warranted at this time. 

It was Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez who "issued the order to create an importation plan," Cruz-Angeles said in a Palace briefing on Aug. 11. 

Cruz-Angeles said the resolution was illegal because in order to come up with it, the SRA board members must be convened, something that, according to her, Marcos did not approve in the first place. 

The Palace also did not not have any knowledge that the resolution was already uploaded on the SRA's website. 

"You can only convene the board with the assent, explicit assent of the President. And he did not make such an agreement," said Cruz-Angeles. 

Asked if there was any miscommunication between officials and the Palace, the Press Secretary answered in the negative. 

In succeeding interviews over the weekend, Cruz-Angeles said the document was a "big deal" since "there appears to be an intent to mislead" the President. 

"Anong gagawin niya (Marcos)? Is he supposed to uphold that? Is he supposed to get along with it? Is he supposed to trust that these things can work on their own even if he has no explicit authority given to these people," she said during an interview on state-run Radyo Pilipinas.

"Siyempre nakakasama talaga ng loob 'yun." 

(We did not like what happened.)

"Mag-iimport tayo ng basic commodity that is heavily restricted, parang na-bypass nila lahat ng steps that have to be taken before we make an importation. 'Yun yung problema dito," she noted. 

(We will import a basic commodity that is heavily restricted, but they bypassed all the steps that have to be taken before importation. This is the problem.)

RELATED VIDEO

Watch more News on iWantTFC

Despite this though, she assured the officials tagged in the controversy that the probe would be fair and objective, emphasizing that Marcos will not interfere. 

"He is leaving the investigation to be conducted without his interference. Kailangan fair, and he will attend to other matters habang ginagawa po yan (while the probe is ongoing.)"

The extensive investigation, she earlier said, may cover other issues in the Department of Agriculture — an agency Marcos temporarily heads — and it wanted to determine whether or not the signing of the document was with negligence or malice.

It was so far unclear how long the investigation would take, the Palace official said on Saturday.

"Depende yan. Ang puntirya diyan is to find out who else is (sic) involved. So until malaman yon, hindi titigil yung imbestigasyon. We have to get to the bottom of this. Yun po ang goal. Until that happens, tuloy-tuloy."

(That depends. The aim of the investigation is to find out those who are involved. Until that gets determined, our investigation will not stop.)

'DEMOLITION JOB' VS RODRIGUEZ

Rodriguez supposedly gave additional functions and authority to Sebastian when he was appointed agriculture undersecretary for operations last month. 

Under the order, as cited by a Manila Times report, the Palace "authorized" Sebastian to "sign contracts, memoranda of agreement, administrative issuances, instruments and administrative financial documents" necessary to ensure the smooth function of the Department of Agriculture. 

He may also "sit as an ex-officio chairman or member of all duly constituted committees, councils, boards, or bodies where the DA Secretary is a member, or designate other DA officials to do the same," it read.

Addressing the Palace memorandum making him a chief-of-staff of Marcos in the agency as well as his designation as DA undersecretary, Cruz-Angeles said this was "legal." 

But Sebastian erred, she noted, when there was no indication in the import order that he is the President's representative who "allowed to convene the board." 

"Wala pong ganun. Hindi rin po siya pinayagan ng ating Pangulo pumirma on his behalf [of] any resolution. 'Yung meeting na 'yon, illegal po 'yon," she said in a livestream on Friday night. 

 

Reports linking Rodriguez to the sugar import mess were without basis because he is not a member of the Sugar Regulatory Administration's board, said Cruz-Angeles. 

"Walang kinalaman si ES sa importation... Hindi po siya nag-utos ng importation, and lalong-lalo na wala siyang kinalaman sa paglalabas ng resolusyon," she added. 

(He did not have any role in the importation, more so order it. He also did not know anything about the resolution.)

It was Rodriguez who informed the President of the developments, which was why the public should keep their eye on the "illegal act" of convening of the SRA board without the President's approval. 

What was the importation plan though? Cruz-Angeles said the blueprint does not translate to an order to import as this was only a study. 

"Pag-aaral ito. Pero may mga tao na gusto naman siguro i-link si ES dito sa anomalya na ito o sa pangyayaring ito... with malice," she said in a radio interview. 

(This is a study. But some people want to link the Executive Secretary in this anomaly.)

"Does this mean that the ES had anything to do with the convening? Of course not, the importation plan had nothing to do with that."

When asked during her livestream on Friday if there is a "demolition job" against Rodriguez, Cruz-Angeles said it was likely. 

"Mukha ngang ganoon. Parang ang layo-layo naman kasi ng sinasabi nila na si ES Vic pa ang responsable sa importation. Malayo po sa bituka, hindi 'yan ang nangyari," she said. "He had nothing to do with this."

(It seems like that. What they're saying regarding the importation is very far from reality. That did not happen.) 

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT 

The Palace will wait for the results of the probe and determine if there is a possible criminal or administrative liability of the undersigned, most especially if there is malice.

"Although he (Sebastian) has resigned, if there is criminal liability here, hindi siya safe sa criminal cases. But we will have to wait for the investigation," Cruz-Angeles said. 

"Proof ng malice 'yung may attempt to cover-up, titignan po natin kung ano ang findings ng ating imbestigasyon." 

(The attempt to cover up is a proof of malice. We will look into the findings of our investigation.)

The probe will also be evidence-based. 

"Halimbawa, if they know kung walang pahintulot ang pangulo sa pag-convene, alam ba nila na walang direktiba ng pangulo, kinuwestyon ba nila yung awtoridad ng pinatawag ng meeting kung saan gumawa sila ng resolusyon?" she said.

(For example, whether they know that the resolution did not have ay permission from the President, whether they know that there was no directive from the President, if they questioned the authority of the person who called for that meeting where the resolution was signed.)

Meanwhile, the government is looking for ways to address the looming sugar shortage.

In her press briefing last week, Cruz-Angeles said importation must be a balancing act which keeps in mind the protection of consumers while ensuring that the local markets will not die. 

She also added in a separate livestream that the DA will look into the possible causes of the soaring sugar prices. Importation may be considered but how much would be imported remained the most pressing question. 

"Purportedly dahil may kakulangan sa harvest. Harvest season na po ulit, hindi ba sinasabi natin na sensitive na commodity ang asukal so hindi tayo basta-basta nag-iimport... That might cause the deterioration or destruction of our own local industries," she said. 

Marcos said the country is likely import around 150,000 metric tons of sugar by October to keep prices steady. 

During his meeting with industry players in the Palace on Monday, the President also suggested a possible direct importation of sugar through local manufacturers to address the shortage.