The Senate blue ribbon committee on Thursday (September 8) recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against former officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its attached agency, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).
This is related to the unauthorized issuance of an order to import 300,000 metric tons of sugar without a go-signal from Malacañang.
The Senate panel, in its committee report, is asking the Office of the Ombudsman to file graft charges against former DA Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, former SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, and former SRA board members Roland Beltran and Aurelio Valderrama Jr., for supposedly violating Republic Act (RA) No. 10845 or the anti-agricultural smuggling law, alleged corruption and usurpation of authority.
The report, signed by 14 senators with Senator Risa Hontiveros as the lone dissenter, said that the abovementioned officials committed acts of “serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and gross insubordination under the revised rules on administrative cases in the civil service.”
Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez, who admitted in the committee hearing that he received an advanced copy of the draft of the controversial Sugar Order No. 4, was cleared of any wrongdoing in the sugar importation fiasco.
Senator Francis Tolentino, blue ribbon committee’s chair, said that they had decided to clear Rodriguez of any liability, saying that, “there is such an offense for simple neglect of duty, but even in that, circumstances did not qualify.”
Sebastian was placed under preventive suspension as the chief of staff of the DA secretary, while Serafica, Beltran, and Valderrama have already resigned.
Minority to release separate report
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said that the minority, composed of him and Hontiveros, will release a separate report on the issue, saying that the committee should’ve been more compassionate in its recommended punishment of the former officials.
“There were people who were persistently asking for approval or a decision or feedback, and they request for info or advice or decision, and they were purposely not replied to, and now you want them to go to jail?” Pimentel said in a briefing.
“I believe we should be more forgiving this time because what we saw in the hearings is the miscommunication or lack of communication,” he added.
Meanwhile, Hontiveros said that the committee report made the former and suspended officials as the “fall guys” when, in fact, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. overturned the decision.
“Of course, the President can retract orders and override policy, but I believe Sebastian when he says he was, [in] good faith, of the belief that the importation was necessary, it had the support of the chief executive,” Hontiveros said.
Tolentino said that he would present the committee report in the plenary on Monday (September 12) for ratification.
Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments on politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @marvs30ang for latest news and updates. The views expressed are his own.
Watch more videos on Yahoo: