Amid sugar fiasco, Senate minority push for appointment of ‘full-time’ agri chief

·Contributor
·3 min read
Philippine President Ferdinand
MANILA, PHILIPPINES - JULY 25: Philippine President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. delivers his first State of the Nation Address before lawmakers at the House of Representatives on July 25, 2022 in Manila, The Senate minority bloc has disputed the Blue Ribbon Committee's findings on the "sugar fiasco" that resulted from the Sugar Order No. 4. (PHOTO: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

The Senate minority bloc has called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is also the self-appointed agriculture chief, to name a “full-time Secretary of Agriculture” as soon as possible amid the recent sugar fiasco that happened under his watch.

In their report released Tuesday (Sep 13), Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III and Sen. Risa Hontiveros has contested the findings of the Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC) which absolved Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez over the controversial importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar.

Executive Secretary Victor D. Rodriguez is not entirely blameless in the so-called fiasco behind Sugar Order No. 4,” the report read.

"We believe the committee report fell short of making sense of this fiasco. Nakakapagtakang may nagaganap pang bolahan, takipan, sisihan, bintangan, at laglagan (It’s puzzling how a lot of fooling around, covering up, pinning blames, and betrayals happened).," Hontiveros said in a press conference.

The minority senators also noted the “silence” of the senate panel on Rodriguez’s accountability.

"It was clear to us early on that all communications related to the issuance of SO 4 were timely and clearly communicated to the executive secretary. However, the executive secretary's unilateral decision to sit on it contributed to the debacle," Hontiveros said.

They added that the Committee Report (CR) 354, which was released by BRC head and Senator Francis Tolentino, “failed or purposely refrained” Rodriguez’s part on the sugar saga.

Furthermore, Pimentel and Hontiveros said that there was "no basis" to file graft and smuggling charges against four Department of Agriculture (DA) officials involved namely: suspended Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, resigned Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) chief Hermenegildo Serafica and SRA board members Roland Beltran and Aurelio Gerardo Valderama Jr.

The senators said that the Agriculture officials involved “acted in good faith” and called the officials as "scapegoats" and "fall guys" in the fiasco.

However, he two minority members said that they will leave the filing of charges against Rodriguez to law enforcement.

"We will not recommend charges against the executive secretary. Actually, my staff and I discussed if there are violations of any criminal provisions. I said, 'Let’s not look for any.' Let this just be on their conscience," said Pimentel.

Sugar outputs for domestic use

Meanwhile, the president, who also sits as chair of the SRA as the agriculture chief, has signed Sugar Order (SO) No. 1 classifying all sugar produced in the country for the crop year 2022-2023 as “B” sugar, or for the domestic sugar market.

This is amid the current sugar shortage being experienced in the country on top of the sugar saga on Marcos Jr.’s watch.

The order dated August 26 was posted on the SRA website on Tuesday.

Pola Rubio is a news writer and photojournalist covering Philippine politics and events. She regularly follows worldwide and local happenings. She advocates for animal welfare and press freedom. Follow her on Twitter @polarubyo for regular news and cat postings. The views expressed are her own.

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