Resigned SRA execs replaced

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has named the replacements for officials of the Sugar Regulatory Administration who resigned amid the controversial Sugar Order 4 signing which the Palace described as unauthorized and illegal.

David John Thaddeus Alba was named acting administrator of the embattled Sugar Regulatory Administration, Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez confirmed to reporters on Saturday.

Alba replaced former SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica who resigned from his post on 15 August after the SRA Board signed and released SO 4 allowing the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar.

Marcos also appointed new members of the SRA Board: Pablo Luis Azcona (sugar planters representative) and Ma. Mitzi Mangwag (sugar millers’ representative).

Azcona replaced Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama Jr. while Mangwag replaced Roland Beltran, who quit his job on 15 August due to “health reasons.”

All four signed SO 4 along with from Agriculture chief of staff and Undersecretary for Operations Leocadio Sebastian.

Nothing illegal

Former chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the resigned officials and Sebastian did not commit any illegal activity.

“There was delegated authority given by Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez ‘by authority of the President,’” Panelo said Saturday.

The order, he said, was issued on the basis of data presented to them by other government agencies and other key players that there will be a shortage.

“PBBM has authorized the importation of 150 metric tons of sugar, this is an admission that there is a shortage,” he added.

“I understand there is a memo from Sebastián addressed to the ES for the approval of the order to import 300 metric tons, which approval is unnecessary given the authority granted him, but the ES did not act on it,” he said.

The order to import the 300 metric tons, Panelo said, was merely recommendatory.

“The President can always reduce the number,” he said.

Hence, the accusation/declaration from the Press Secretary that the order was illegal is wrong and unfair to Sebastián et al, Panelo said.

Meanwhile, Sebastian’s resignation letter dated 11 August read: “I sincerely offer my apologies, your Excellency, for having approved Sugar Order 4 on your behalf, and through the authority, you had vested upon me. It has become clear that the same was not in keeping with your administration’s desired direction for the sugar industry.”

Serafica, on the other hand, said he is leaving his post with a “light heart and clear conscience knowing that I performed the functions of my office consistent with, or within the bounds of the law.”

owned and controlled corporation, is attached to the Department of Agriculture, which is temporarily headed by the President.

Mr. Marcos had announced he would “reorganize” SRA as household consumers and major food and drink industries face a sugar supply shortage.

Malacañang confirmed that the President is looking into importing as many as 150,000 metric tons of sugar to stabilize the local supply. The schedule for the importation has yet to be announced.

He also secured the commitment of leading supermarkets such as Robinsons Supermarket, SM Supermarket, and Puregold to sell sugar at P70 per kilo.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the grocery retailers and the President did not enter an agreement for the former to sell the sweetener at a cheaper price.

She said it was purely a “request” by the President as a way to help “ordinary Filipinos.”

As a result, a purchase limit of one kilo of sugar per consumer in the said supermarkets is imposed.

Before the agreement, the retail price of refined sugar has increased to more than P100 per kilo, P75 per kilo for washed sugar, and P70 for brown sugar in Metro Manila, based on DA data.

Weeks after the sugar fiasco broke out, Custom agents simultaneously inspected several warehouses in Pampanga and Bulacan on 18 August and yielded thousands of sacks of hoarded sugar worth more than P200 million.

Strict supervision of prices

The Department of Trade and Industry ensured prices of sugar in supermarkets will be strictly supervised, with the help of partner agencies namely the Department of Agriculture, as major supermarket owners committed to a P70 per kilo price during their meeting with a Malacañang official last Friday.

Trade Secretary Fred Pascual, in a Viber message, said part of DTI’s mandate is to make sure the suggested retail price on basic commodities in major supermarkets and groceries, which include sugar, are well monitored.

“The DTI has a system for monitoring the prices of the 20 basic necessities and prime commodities for which DTI approved suggested retail prices in accordance with the Price Act. DTI also ensured that increases in prices are not due to hoarding and collusion,” he said.

Press Secretary Angeles announced on Friday that Robinsons, SM, and Puregold Supermarkets “all agreed to the suggested retail price of P70 per kilo of sugar, from a high of P90-P110 per kilo,” after a meeting with Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez.

Hoarding reports

Meanwhile, Pascual in a separate disclosure, said DTI received reports of hoarding and smuggling of sugar which are being evaluated by his office.

“We are still checking reports and we are working with other partners in government to check if there’s indeed hoarding. I guess that’s the issue being checked here,” Pascual said in an ambush interview Friday.

On Saturday, Sugar Regulatory Authority deputy administrator Guillermo Tejida III admitted that it is premature to say that owners of warehouses raided by the Bureau of Customs recently will be liable for economic sabotage.

“We have to understand that hoarding is an offense subject to verification. Even the DTI would not categorically state that there is hoarding in these warehouses,” he said in a radio interview.

Tejida added that “hoarding is present when more than half of storage capacity is not moving. This is effectively depriving the public of availing of the commodity such as sugar. There is clear, maybe, a high indication that there is hoarding.”

Current law in the country states that any person or entity found to have violated or committed price manipulation, particularly hoarding, may face a fine ranging between P5,000 and P2 million and imprisonment of not less than five years up to 15 years.

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