Agriculture exec resigns over sugar import row
BY KRISTINA MARALIT AND BELLA CARIASO
The Manila Times
DEPARTMENT of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian stepped down from his post over the unauthorized issuance of a resolution for the importation of an additional 300,000 metric tons of sugar, Malacañang announced late Friday. Press Secretary Rose Beatrix “Trixie” Cruz-Angeles said the embattled official submitted his resignation letter last Thursday, August 11, and “profusely apologized” to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for approving Sugar Order 4 without the prior consent of the Chief Executive who also concurrently sits as DA Secretary and chairman of the Sugar Regulatory Board (SRB). “I sincerely offer my apologies, Your Excellency, for my having approved Sugar Order no.4 on your behalf, and through the authority you have vested upon me…I take accountability and responsibility for its consequences,” Cruz-Angeles said, quoting part of Sebastian’s one-page letter. “Thus, I humbly offer to be relieved of my delegated authorities and the assignments and responsibilities in my capacity as Chief of Staff and Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture,” it added. The Palace official has described as “illegal” Sugar Order 4 issued by the Sugar Regulatory Administration, m (SRA) which supposedly directs the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar. “The Chairman of the Sugar Regulatory Board is President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. As such, the chairman sets the date of any meetings or convening of the Sugar Regulatory Board and its agenda. No such meeting was authorized by the President or such a resolution likewise, was not authorized,” stated Cruz-Angeles. The incident triggered an investigation 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, according to the press secretary. “In such a case, if such findings are made, then the only determination left will be how many heads are going to roll,” she said. “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 the consumer against the rising prices of basic commodities while ensuring at the same time that we do not destroy the local industry,” she further noted. Earlier in the day, Angeles said the Palace investigation “will probably cover a more extensive review than simply the resolution the Sugar Regulatory board issued.” “Sinu-sino ang involved dito, ano ‘yung extent ng kanilang involvement (Who are involved here, what is the extent of their involvement). Was it attended with malice, was it negligence, was it simply just bad judgment? Kailangan malaman natin ‘tong mga ito at kung sino pa ang involved dito (We need to know these things and who else are involved here),” Cruz-Angeles said. She was reacting to a statement by Sen. Imee Marcos on Thursday that a syndicate in the Department of Agriculture (DA) could be behind the aborted attempt to import 300,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar without the authority of President Marcos. “If there are sufficient findings then heads will roll,” she said. Aside from Sebastian, the resolution was also signed by SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica as vice chairman of the SRA board; Roland B. Beltran, the millers’ representative to the board; and Aurelio Gerardo J. Valderrama Jr., the planters’ representative. The order was deemed “illegal” because the President did not call the board meeting or authorized the issuance of the resolution, which was already posted on the DA website. The post was promptly taken down. The option to import sugar had been proposed as a way to ease the impact to consumers of the abrupt rise in the price of refined sugar. A kilo of refined sugar retails for P100 in the markets in Metro Manila. But Palace officials said an importation needs careful study to make sure “that we do not destroy the local industry.” As far as the farmers’ group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) is concerned, Sugar Order 4 was motivated by corruption. In a radio interview Friday, Sinag President Rosendo So said that based on the group’s consultation with DA and SRA officials, the actual sugar shortfall was only about 100,000 MT. “We were surprised because the shortfall they mentioned was at 100,000 metric tons. We see some corruption within the department, and the volume is so much, three times the volume they are saying,” So said. “The fact they signed it without the President’s authority, that’s a big problem. Officials who signed the order should immediately be replaced,” he said.