Former DA leader denies anyone pressured him to sign sugar import order

Former AD Usec. Lecadio Sebastian during the Senate hearing on issues surrounding the import of sugar. Screenshot of the Senate livestream

MANILA, Philippines — Former Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian denied on Tuesday that anyone had urged him to sign the controversial ordinance allowing the import of 300,000 tonnes of sugar.

During the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senator Raffy Tulfo questioned Sebastian to reveal who urged him to sign Sugar Ordinance No. 4, which President Ferdinand Marcos Jr rejected.

Marcos is concurrently head of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and chairman of the board of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).

Sebastian claimed he signed the order as he has the authority based on a memorandum issued by Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez.

“There was no one pushing or pressuring me on this matter. I signed for the Secretary of Agriculture (Marcos) based on the authority given to me on July 15, 2022,” Sebastian said.

“The memo states that I can serve as ex-officio chairman of boards, committees, etc. any government agency of which the Secretary of Agriculture is a member. The SRA (Sugar Regulatory Administration) board is one such board where the agriculture secretary sits ex officio,” he added.

The sugar shortage is questioned by Zubiri, who noted around 120,000 metric tons of unmarketed sugar in warehouses.

Sebastian justified that the country’s monthly consumption of raw sugar is 170,000 metric tons and 85,000 metric tons of refined sugar.

He pointed out that the country will have a deficit of more than 200,000 metric tons of raw sugar. Hence the decision to sign the import decree.

“Based on the data we have from the SRA and DA, we will have a shortfall of 212,000 metric tonnes for raw sugar even though milling started in September and October,” explained the former head of the ‘agriculture.

“Only in November will we be able to produce enough raw sugar to meet our demand,” he continued.

Following the sugar import fiasco, Sebastian resigned his position along with SRA leader Hermenegildo Serafica and SRA board member Roland Beltran.

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Despite resignations, executives involved in sugar import fiasco remain accountable — Zubiri

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Rachel J. Bradford