MANILA, Philippines – “Let’s import.”
Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban quoted President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to have issued such directive as the Senate blue ribbon committee conducted a hearing on allegedly irregular sugar importations on Tuesday, May 23.
It was the first time a resource person in the probe directly pointed to the President as having ordered the importation.
Panganiban, however, retracted a similar but more suggestive statement in which the President allegedly said in a meeting with several importers, “Let’s import through selected importers of sugar.”
He further backtracked after senators Risa Hontiveros and Koko Pimentel clarified if another statement – “Let’s do it ourselves” – could be attributed to the President.
“Ako po nagsabi noon,” Panganiban said. “Ang sinabi po ng Presidente, ‘Let’s import.’” (I was the one who said that. What the President said was, “Let’s import.”)
Sugar imports were approved in an attempt to augment tight supplies and stabilize skyrocketing prices.
The Senate hearing probed into the “irregular” sugar shipments to Philippine ports ahead of Sugar Order (SO) No. 6.
The probe also looked into “possible sugar cartels” and the suspect handpicking of three importers contracted to bring 440,000 metric tons (MT) of refined sugar in the country: All Asian Countertrade Inc., Edison Lee Marketing Corp., and S&D Sucden Philippines.
“If there is no sugar order, importation becomes a violation of the law. Isn’t that right?” Hontiveros asked.
Panganiban answered, “Yes, it is a necessity.”
Hontiveros then turned to the January 13 memorandum from Executive Secretary (ES) Lucas Bersamin, instructing the Department of Agriculture (DA) to import sugar.
Was the memo considered a sugar order? Executive Undersecretary Roy Cervantes said during an ambush interview last February, “Actually it is just a directive to implement the order of the President.”
Hontiveros expressed dismay that the “President’s directive is valid alone” despite the legal necessity of sugar orders.
‘No irregularity committed’
However, Bersamin said that the imports were “legitimate and fully authorized by the government.” During the hearing – his first appearance before the Senate blue ribbon committee in relation to the “Sugar fiasco 2.0” – he said that the sugar order was not the only instrument that could permit sugar importations. These can be done too through the minimum access volume scheme, or “when [the] president exercises powers.”
“We have committed no irregularity,” maintained Bersamin.
“We confirm that the importation was legitimate and fully authorized by the government. The importation was not an effort at cartelization, nor was it about government smuggling of sugar,” said Bersamin, a former Supreme Court chief justice.
The Palace official said that they did not commit any violation when they issued the order, adding that it was a move done by the government to address rising inflation and regulate sugar prices. He also cited Executive Order No. 18 during the time of former president Corazon Aquino that created the Sugar Regulatory Commission (SRA).
“We were a net exporter of sugar. The creation of the Sugar Regulatory [Administration] under this executive order had nothing to do with importation,” he quipped. He also noted that Marcos just exercised his powers as the chief executive because there was an urgent need for the move.
“Our opinion is that a sugar order is not required to be issued prior to an importation… There is also a relevant provision in the Price Act, and the residual is when the President exercises his powers as the chief executive for when there is an urgent need for such experience,” Bersamin said.
In March, Marcos said he would stay as concurrent agriculture secretary as some people would only listen to the President.
After claiming to quote the President, and being grilled for verbatim dialogue, Panganiban mostly answered questions with “I don’t know.”
The senior undersecretary failed to answer directly when Hontiveros asked why the agency did “not allow more players in the spirit of competition,” or when clarification was sought over whether imports that entered the country without corresponding sugar order were illegal.
Panganiban said he was not actually knowledgeable on sugar, because even when he was agriculture secretary, he was focused on production.
He said he was not privy to the nitty-gritty of sugar orders, as he only acted on reports given to him by the SRA. – Rappler.com
There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.