Palace clears ES on sugar fracas

Malacañang cleared Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez on Saturday from involvement in the questionable signing of what was considered an illegal resolution calling for the importation of sugar.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles denied Rodriguez had a hand in the order for the sugar importation plan.

a memorandum appointing Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian that bore Rodriguez’s signature was obtained by Daily Tribune.

Sebastian in his designated function as Undersecretary for Operations convened the Sugar Regulatory Board (SRB) that, in turn, approved the importation proposal.

Angeles made the statement after announcing the resignation of Sebastian, whom she said took responsibility for convening the SRB.

Sebastian’s resignation will not affect his criminal culpability. Angeles said it only “affects the administrative case” but not the possible criminal case he may face after he “signed for and on behalf” of the President, SRA Sugar Order 4.

Sebastian admitted that he was the one who signed a resolution calling for the additional importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar even without the required imprimatur from the president.

“Other people interpreted it as he (Rodriguez) was the one who ordered the importation program. It doesn’t work like that because sugar is a highly-regulated commodity,” Angeles said in her interview with state-run Radyo Pilipinas.

“Because it is an agricultural product, we have planters here, many people are affected. It’s like rice, we are sensitive about it when its prices fluctuate. We protect the consumers while we also want to protect the farmers,” she said.

In an earlier statement, Angeles also said that the executive secretary “has nothing to do” with the importation resolution of the SRB.

“He did not order to convene it. When he found out that SRB had convened and he issued a resolution, he brought up the news to the President himself,” she said

“Right there and then, he wanted to call for a meeting and resolve the issue. Our president is fair, he still wanted due process even though we see the resolution as illegal,” she added.

Fair investigation

The Press Secretary said that the chief executive will not interfere with the ongoing investigation of the illegal importation order of the SRA.

“He’s (Marcos) leaving the investigation to be conducted without his interference,” she said, adding that the president wants a “fair and objective” investigation.

She said the investigation was being conducted by Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs lawyer Richard Palpalatoc.

Other officials who signed the document may also be liable and are all under investigation, according to Angeles.

“Of course, we also need to investigate who signed the illegal resolution calling for the importation of sugar… We will see the extent of their involvement here,” she added.

Aside from Sebastian, the SRA’s Sugar Order 4 was also signed by Board vice chairperson Hermenegildo Serafica; Board Member — Miller’s Representative Rolando Beltran; and Acting Board Member — Planter’s Representative Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama Jr.

Angeles also defended the government over a directive to create an importation plan.

“The importation plan is like a feasibility study… It gives us information. That’s not an order. You see the importation plan, there is no order to import,” she said.

“You have to study first. This is what we are saying, that the President wants to do things systematically,” she added.

Marcos initially rejected the idea of importing sugar since the shipments from the last importation order are still on their way to the country.

“It means we need to study how much sugar is out there. What would be its effects if new shipments arrive,” she added.

“If the investigation reveals that there are criminal acts here, then he (Sebastian) will be appropriately charged. It is not only Sebastian who we are referring to since it was a board decision so we wanted to know the liabilities of the other officials,” Angeles said.

Angeles, nevertheless, emphasized that the results of the investigation have not been released yet, thus it has not been established whether or not “there had been criminal acts” committed by the Agriculture officials.

Entire board up for probe

“However, in his resignation he made admissions, so if there would be a criminal case, then those admissions can be presented as evidence for the prosecution,” Angeles, a lawyer, said.

Angeles has repeatedly stated that the signed resolution ordering the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar has not been authorized by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Traders wanted importation

Amid the outrage over the unauthorized signing of the order, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said it is giving the ball to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on what to do on the problem of sugar shortage amid its surging prices in supermarkets.

Before the importation order was issued sans the approval of the President, the business sector, composed of PCCI, along with Philippine Food Exporters (Philfoodex) and Philippine Exporters Confederation (Philexport) sent to the media its support for the government importation of the commodity, along with calls for the government to immediately investigate the low supply of sugar.

But on Saturday, PCCI president George Barcelon seemed to change his tune, saying that the group is are leaving the decision to Malacañang to review the situation.

“Give DA and SRA time to study the issue of shortage to decide what action to take,” Barcelon said in response to a Tribune’s query.

Asked what the government should do instead of importing sugar from other countries, Barcelon, who is also an official of Philexport, said “the government may convince traders to deliver and stick to the old price.”

In backing the sugar importation, the PCCI, Philfoodex and Philexport, in a joint statement, said that based on the report of the SRA, the cost of refined sugar in Metro Manila is approximately P115 per kilo, which is likely to spike up if 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.


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