Sponsorship Speech by Senator Francis Tolentino Committee Report #3 Fiasco Behind Sugar Order #4

PHILIPPINES, September 12 – Press release
September 12, 2022


Mr. Speaker, ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you today at the direction of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, after reviewing the Honorable Speaker of the Senate’s Speech of Privilege on August 15, 2022, and after having held several public hearings, I have the honor to report on its conclusions.

Mr. President, I present to you today, with a firm belief in the findings and conclusions of the Blue Ribbon Committee Report No. 3 on the sugar fiasco surrounding the issuance of Sugar Ordinance No. 4. in coordination with the Senate Agriculture Committee led by the Honorable Senator Cynthia Villar.

With a sense of urgency, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee began its investigation on August 23, 2022, and within 17 days ending September 8, 2022, your committee was able to complete the hearings as well as the committee’s report.

Mr. President, we have invited all members of the SRA Board of Directors, all the personalities involved, and we have even issued a subpoena to none other than Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez. Mr. President, gusto ko pong pasalamatan muna – I would like to express my gratitude to all the members of the Committee who devoted their precious time to shed light on the facts surrounding this issue, including the members of the minority. Napaka sipag po nila. I do not only thank the members of the Committee, all our colleagues, the staff, the members of the Blue Ribbon Committee, those of the executive, and especially the participation of the sovereign people. When hearing tatlong patungkol in this case, commenting on social media pages and issuing opinions and haka-haka – marming pong salamat! This is the pinnacle of public participation. And sinabi ko po saityo na all this is pagninilayan.

Again, Mr. Speaker, modesty aside, for the first time in the history of this blue ribbon committee, a full 75-page report has been released after only 3 thorough but effective hearings. Again in 17 days, this report – which we will deliver to all our dear colleagues – sets out the Committee’s conclusions based on evidence duly presented and weighed by factual standards.

Mr President, hiniling po saatin noon ng minorya, and I am right. As a member of the blue ribbon committee, we not only restore the integrity of the Senate, but also the integrity of the Senate. In its position to protect the integrity of the Senate and its constitutional power to extract information when conducting inquiries in support of legislation, the Blue Ribbon Committee, as I mentioned before, even issued a subpoena against the Executive Secretary to compel his presence and discover the truth of the facts and circumstances which led to the issuance of Order No. 4 on the sugar in question.

Mr. Chairman, In the conduct of our interrogations, we made sure to renounce the politicization of the files. The honorable members of the Blue Ribbon Committee can attest to that. Instead, we focused our energies and resources on the problem at hand – whether there really was a real need to import sugar. If there were none, who authorized the importation at the expense of the Philippine sugar industry?

Alam niyo po, sa isyung ito rendered the kahalagahan epekto of the polisiya na inilalatag ng pamahalaan, na nilatag ing mga mambabatas para sa maayos and mahusay na implementasyon of nasa ehekutibo.

Mr. Chairman, while not organizing the Blue Ribbon Committee, your Chairman has established the following principles which will guide the Committee in its investigations:

1. A, A roadmap will be made for hearing purposes of known duration with defined direction. Endless hearings will not be permitted.

Ayaw po maniwala nung iba, but we did it with the help of all our colleagues, including the minority.

2. The investigation will not turn into a political circus. It won’t be a witch hunt or a fishing expedition;

3. Resource persons will be respected;

4. Moral certainty will be the standard of proof; and finally,

5. The Committee will protect the people, the fountain of power.

Mr President, while faking the pag laganap ng asukal sa ating bansa, and this was around the 1800s, I read on one of the late nights when I was studying the sugar industry that the British – there barely an hour ago we were watching a ceremony in the british parliament following the death of queen elizabeth. During the 1800s, a British vice-consul by the name of Nicholas Loney was at the forefront of the birth of the sugar industry in the Philippines. He was said to have lobbied for an easy disbursement of crop loans given to sugar planters first in Iloilo City, who after seeing the importance of sugar farming, expanded the grant crop loans to Negros farmers. The story explained Loney’s assistance in the acquisition by our local farmers of agricultural machinery and technology during this time. As a result, Mr. President, the main product of Visayas then was raw sugar destined for the United States, England and Australia.

Colleagues, what I’m getting at here is this: one person’s prioritization of providing favorable loans to planters of a certain crop gave rise to an entire industry, the birth of the sweet tooth Filipinos, why we dip suman in sugar, why we love panghimaga, and have our own version of sweet spaghetti, Mr President.

Mr. Speaker, for the same reason, an improper policy or order – especially issued without the proper authority and careful study as backing and justification – can have a significant impact on hundreds of thousands of local farmers. Of course, Mr. President, 800,000 farmers and apektado. This is to the detriment not only of the sugar industry, but of the lives of our local farmers themselves, their wives, their children and their future. It is ironic, Mr President, that we have farmers without food. As I mentioned earlier, Mr President, guided by the principles we set out during this organizational hearing of August 17 and after 3 in-depth hearings, Mr President, your Commission recommends the following measures :

1. First, on the need for more transparency and accountability.

2. We also propose to expand the SRA board by adding members to represent key sectors.

3. Finally, the Committee recommends full funding of the 2005 AIDS law.

That to me is Senator Cynthia Villar’s taste.

On the liability side, Mr. President, your Committee recommends the following charges:

1. Violation of Section 3(a) of the Anti-Corruption and Corrupt Practices Act (AR 3019)

2. Violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Corruption and Corrupt Practices Act (AR 3019)

3. Violation of article 177 of the revised Penal Code, as amended.

4. Violation of the provisions of RA No. 10845, also known as the Anti-Smuggling Agriculture Act of 2016.

5. Administrative Cases of Gross Dishonesty, Gross Neglect of Duty, Gross Misconduct, Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interests of the Service and Gross Insubordination under Sections 50 (A) (1-3) and (B ) (9-10) of the Public Service Administrative Matters Regulations 2017

against the following persons: former SRA administrator Hermeneglido Serafica, Atty, Ramon B. Beltran, Mr. Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama Jr., former SRA board members, and against Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian.

Mr. Speaker, let me end my speech, Mr. Speaker, by saying that the purpose of the Blue Ribbon Committee is to seek the truth and nothing but the truth. An investigation for the benefit of congressional legislation 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 belongs sovereignty.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Rachel J. Bradford