On Tuesday, lawmakers grilled resigning Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) and Department of Agriculture (DA) officials for what they called a “disregard” for protocols when releasing the Sugar Ordinance No. 4 which was supposed to authorize the import of 300,000 metric tons of sugar.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. rejected the order.
During the joint hearing of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability and the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, Antipolo 2nd District Representative Romeo Acop asked why he there had been no consultation with SRA management prior to the signing of the order, which was observed. in previous editions.
He added that Sugar Order No. 4 did not include a performance guarantee.
“I was a victim of Circular Memorandum No. 1. When it came out, the three deputies and the head of the legal department thought that our mandate ended in June 2022… They betrayed my trust… We have so much sugar. It was just a matter of getting the current data needed to come up with such a sugar order,” explained former SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica.
“The signs are there na hindi talaga tama ang Sugar Order No. 4. He was summoned by someone who is not authorized to do so. He did not follow the protocols. Hindi nila inilagay ang performance bond to paid by the participants in order to protect the government.” Acop said.
Quezon 2nd District Rep. David Suarez and Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. also criticized the decision of those who signed Sugar Ordinance No. 4 without the president’s approval. , who is also Agriculture Secretary and Chairman of the SRA Board.
Serafica said the SRA had consulted with cane growers and received written recommendations from them before signing Sugar Ordinance No. 4.
He said that no one objected to the import of sugar at that time. Serafica added that the matter was urgent, as sugar supplies were expected to run out significantly by the end of August. A group of millers also said demand for sugar had been growing since 2015, but local sugar production could not keep up.
“I haven’t overlooked the farmers… We consulted with the farmers as of July 29, 2022. It was a recommendation from almost all stakeholders. These are written recommendations,” Serafica said.
“In the absence of the approval of the Chairman of the SRA, our Secretary of Agriculture, Bongbong Marcos, without his approval, you conducted a referendum and thus approved the import of 300,000 MT? Tama. na na mayroon palang SO4. So lumalabas, kayo-kayo lang may alam. Saan kayo kumuha ng lakas ng loob?” Suarez asked.
Resigning Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian said he signed Sugar Ordinance No. 4 “in good faith” and “misinterpreted” the intention Of the president.
Prior to the signing of the order, the President had instructed the SRA to draw up a sugar import program. Sebastian said the president also recognized that “something needed to be done” to address the country’s sugar shortage.
He noted that a July 15 memorandum allowed him to sign contracts, memorandums of understanding, administrative acts, deeds, administrative and financial documents necessary to carry out the objectives and functions of the ministry of l ‘Agriculture, instead of the head of the agency.
“I have signed for the Secretary of Agriculture, based on the authority given to me in a memorandum dated July 15 by the Executive Secretary. The memorandum states that I will serve ex officio as President or member of any duly constituted committee, board, council or commission bodies of which the Secretary of Agriculture is a member The Secretary is the ex officio President of the SRA And I have therefore participated in good faith in the referendums of the SRA board,” said Sebastian.
“Given the data and the analyzes that have been presented, that the supply of sugar is really very low, and there is already a very high price of sugar, and the impending shortage of sugar in the coming months, and all the data has shown that the supply shortage is even more than the 300,000 tons that are being offered, and given the urgency of the matter…During our meetings, the President recognized that we had to do something to address this shortage of sugar supply,” he said.
“At the end, all my actions are considered valid, unless disapproved or disapproved by the President. When disapproved, I immediately forwarded this action to the administrator of the SRA, who also immediately implemented a disapproval,” added Sebastian.
He said he resigned from his post as undersecretary of agriculture delicadeza.
“When the president disapproved of SO4, I decided that delicadeza resign, to spare the president the controversy that arises because of the approval…I misinterpreted the president’s intent,” Sebastian said.
For the Chair of the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, San Jose Del Monte City Rep. Florida Robes, issuing Sugar Ordinance No. 4 was “unlawful.”
“Who made the decisions? It’s not even the president. It’s illegal,” she said.
“This referendum is illegal, and this meeting of stakeholders that you requested was also not authorized by the president, who happens to be the president. If you ever come under pressure from stakeholders, I will not don’t think that’s just the reason. There are other reasons,” Robes added.
Lawmakers also challenged the SRA’s decision to proceed with the importation of sugar under Sugar Ordinance No. 3, despite two injunctions. But Serafica said the move was based on advice from the government’s Office of Legal Adviser, which said the restrictions were region-specific.
Philippine Sugar Millers Association President Pablo Lobregat, meanwhile, reminded lawmakers that the country should prepare a strategy to prevent the shortage of food supplies, including sugar.
“Hoarding and smuggling are symptoms, not causes, of a supply shortfall. We must prepare a strategy to achieve food self-sufficiency, as food may not be available from our supply chains alone. This is a very serious matter,” he said.
“I’m surprised we spent half a day discussing whether or not a sugar order was legal,” Lobregat noted.