Vic Rodriguez explains role in ‘sugar fiasco’

Vic Rodriguez, spokesperson of presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr, speaks during a press conference at the campaign headquarters in Manila on May 11, 2022. Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri doesn't believe that he is involved in the sugar importation fiasco. (Photo by JAM STA ROSA/AFP via Getty Images)
Vic Rodriguez, spokesperson of presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr, speaks during a press conference at the campaign headquarters in Manila on May 11, 2022. Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri doesn't believe that he is involved in the sugar importation fiasco. (Photo by JAM STA ROSA/AFP via Getty Images)

Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez revealed on Tuesday’s Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing that he received a draft of the controversial Sugar Order (SO) No. 4 that allowed the importation of 300,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar before it was approved without the president’s blessing.

Timeline of events

He said that his office received a draft of SO No. 4 from former Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) head Hermenegildo Serafica, along with a memorandum recommending the said order from former Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Leo Sebastian on August 5.

When Sebastian texted him two days after to ask if President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. already had a decision on the matter, Rodriguez said that he “purposely did not answer” as the president didn’t have a response yet.

And on August 8, the board of the SRA approved SO No. 4 without Marcos’s knowledge, which he eventually rejected and asked for the resignation of those who were involved in the importation order fiasco.

Sebastian, in a separate hearing at the House of Representatives, said that he acted on the SO No. 4 based on a memorandum from Rodriguez’s office dated July 15, 2022, that, according to him, gave him the authority to sign contracts for the DA, and August 1 and 4 meetings with the president, Rodriguez, Serafica, and SRA Board member Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama where they agreed to draft an importation order to be transmitted to the president.

“That gave me the inclination or that gave me the feeling that there is an urgency of this matter that we need to act as soon as possible,” Sebastian said.

However, the little president had a different story to tell: he said that he “confronted” Sebastian regarding the matter in an August 10 meeting at Malacañang – two days after the SRA approved the order.

“I confronted Sebastian and asked him why he did such a thing behind the President’s back,” the Executive Secretary said to the Blue Ribbon Committee. “[Sebastian did it] without the President’s knowledge and in an unfair and dishonorable way.”

Rodriguez said that in their conversation, Sebastian said that he thought the President was okay with the planned importation and asked to phone Serafica and another SRA board member, Roland Beltran, who also thought the same.

Rodriguez’s words on the issue appear ‘strange’

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros is not buying Rodriguez's words, saying that it's strange that Rodriguez had prior knowledge of the draft importation order as early as August 5, and even after Malacañang distanced itself from the said order.

“Did he mention this at all to his principal? The executive secretary should be protecting the president, isn’t it?” Hontiveros asked. “Isn’t it the job of the executive secretary to be the gatekeeper?”

“Why suggest that it was your first time to hear about [SO No. 4] when you were informed and kept in the loop as early as August 5?” Hontiveros further pointed out.

She then asked the Blue Ribbon Committee, of which Sen. Francis Tolentino is the chair, to summon Rodriguez again in the next hearing to allow more senators to ask about his role in the controversy.

Rodriguez’s role in the ‘sugar fiasco’

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said that he doesn’t believe that the executive secretary is involved in the “sugar fiasco.”

“I absolutely do not believe that he is part of this plan of coming out with an illegal order to import sugar,” he said in a news conference on Wednesday (August 24).

“He was the one who took it to the president and told the president about this particular plan that they already signed an import order without the president’s approval,” he added.

He also reminded government officials to follow the rules at all times, and that there must be proper consultation with the stakeholders on the issue at hand.

“I hope this is a lesson learned by these government officials that there needs to be proper consultation of the stakeholders and that there are proper rules that have to be followed,” Zubiri said.

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.

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