‘Wag n’yo niloloko ang ading ko! ’

Malacañang on Thursday said that the foiled attempt to “illegally” import 300,000 metric tons of sugar was not a simple case of “miscommunication” as it placed under investigation those behind what Senator Imee Marcos described as a scheme intended to “fool” her brother, the President.

Senator Marcos minced no words in describing Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Sugar Order (SO) 4 as the “ultimate proof that thick-faced agricultural smugglers are lording it over at the Department of Agriculture (DA).”

One of the first acts of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. upon assuming power last June was to take direct control of the DA as its Secretary, with Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian as his chief-of-staff in the department.

“‘Wag n’yo niloloko ang ading ko (Don’t fool my brother)!” Imee said as she slammed the “unauthorized and fraudulent use of the Office of the President to justify the importation of sugar.”

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles identified Undersecretary Sebastian as the one who “signed for and on behalf” of the President SRA SO 4.

Uploaded, taken down

SRA SO 4 was uploaded and immediately taken down from the SRA website Wednesday night after the Palace disowned it.

“An investigation is ongoing to determine whether any act that would cause the President to lose trust and confidence in his officials can be found or if there is malice or negligence involved,” Angeles said.

“In such a case, if such findings are made, then the only determination left will be how many heads are going to roll,” she added.

Aside from Sebastian, the purported document had as its other “signatories” Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, SRA Board vice-chairperson; Atty. Roland Beltran, board member representing millers; and Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama, acting board member representing planters.

“Such signing was not authorized by the President,” Angeles emphasized. She said the DA undersecretary’s role “as the alternate of the President is merely to be present in those meetings that the President cannot attend.”

The Palace spokesperson explained that Sebastian was not cloaked with the authority to “call any meeting or to sign any resolution in the absence of the President’s awareness that such a resolution is to be issued,” she added.

Importation plan

The President, as the chairperson of the SRA Board, sets the date of any meetings or convening of the board, Angeles pointed out. “No such meeting (during which SRA 4 was signed) was authorized by the President.”

Executive Secretary (ES) Vic Rodriguez, Angeles emphasized, merely asked the SRA to “create an importation plan” and to ascertain how imports would “affect the incoming harvest.”

Since the re-establishment of the Office of the Executive Secretary by virtue of Executive Order 292, the ES had been signing for Presidents from the time of the late Corazon Aquino starting in 1987.

Social media went abuzz Thursday as to who or what drove a mere undersecretary of the DA to sign for the President the assailed importation order. SO 4 followed SO 3 which allowed the importation of 200,000 metric tons of sugar by the country last May.

“All the signatories of the resolution are currently under investigation. Let us wait if a determination can be made — if a preventive suspension order will be issued while the investigation is ongoing. But if the investigation would be quick, we will see replacements very soon,” Angeles said.

Due process

However, Angeles assured that the President is allowing “due process” to take its course to determine why the SRA officials decided to “convene” without informing the President and then rush into signing the order.

“If their explanations are not satisfactory, then appropriate penalties will be imposed,” she said. “Importations are a sensitive matter, particularly with regard to agricultural importations. Sugar is one such importation which we take great care with. It is a balancing act.”

“The importation has to be carefully studied to protect both the consumer against the rising prices of basic commodities while ensuring at the same time that we do not destroy the local industry.”

Angeles confirmed that Marcos met Sebastian at Malacañang Palace on Wednesday evening and discussed the signing of the sugar order, giving the latter “an opportunity for him to answer all — be it informally.”

“So, with an investigation, he has to formally answer,” she said.

United Sugar Producers Federation president Manuel Lamata said they will adhere to the President’s decision.

Business groups like the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. have been urging the Marcos administration to view the importation of sugar “as a precautionary measure to address the shortage in the supply and the increasing prices of refined sugar and sweetened food and beverage products.”

The groups said that based on SRA’s report, sugar in Metro Manila presently costs P115 per kilo and could even go up if the lack of supply is not immediately addressed.

“While we recognize the need to protect our sugar producers and millers, we need to strike a balance and consider expanding our import requirement before the situation worsens, which could lead to higher inflation,” the group averred.

The farmer’s group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), on the other hand, said as the sugar shortage looms, it is “high time” for the government to “finally support” the local producers of the sweetener.

“The Sugar Regulatory Board and the Department of Agriculture should realize that the marching order of the President is to support local production,” SINAG executive director Jayson Cainglet said.

“It’s no longer allowed importing at first instance like during the time of DA Secretary William Dar which really weighed down the local agriculture industry,” he said.

@tribunephl_raf @tribunephl_mbr

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