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MANILA, Philippines – The Senate blue ribbon committee on Monday, May 8, deferred its probe into reports of “irregular” sugar shipments in the Philippines, which opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros called “government-sponsored” smuggling.
Several Cabinet members and a senior agriculture official were invited as resource persons but did not show up, including Senior Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban, who issued a memorandum greenlighting the release of some 440,000 metric tons (MT) of imported refined sugar to the local market.
Senate blue committee chairman Senator Francis Tolentino moved to postpone the probe due to the absence of “vital witnesses.” Apart from Panganiban, National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, former Sugar Regulatory Administration administrator David John Thaddeus P. Alba, and Trade and Industry Secretary Alfredo Pascual did not show up at the Senate inquiry due to prior commitments.
“I noticed the absence of several invited resource persons, notably members of the Cabinet. They should have been here and they would have given critical information and testimony,” Tolentino said.
“The undersecretary of agriculture will be in Washington until May 13. If we could schedule his appearance after that, he will be available. As to Secretary Pascual, and Secretary Balisacan, I think the same is true for them. The ES [Executive Secretary] will always be at your disposal,” Bersamin said.
Amid the high prices of sugar in the country, three sugar importers allegedly favored by the government could make more than P14 billion in profits, according to Hontiveros.
She argued that it was “irregular” to have just three sugar importers bring in the 440,000 MT of imported sugar permitted by Sugar Order Number 6.
“Historically, each importer is allocated around 10,000 to 20,000 metric tons each. So wow, times 10, times 20 dito (here),” Hontiveros said in a press conference on Tuesday, March 21.
Panganiban earlier admitted that he selected three “capable” companies to expedite the importation of sugar, as ordered by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who also concurrently serves as the agriculture secretary.
Hontiveros was disappointed by the absence of Panganiban during the hearing.
“Gusto kong ipaliwanag nila kung bakit nila napili ang tatlong importer na ito. Gusto kong sabihin niya sa harap ng sambayanan kung bakit nila naisip na pwedeng mag-angkat na walang sugar order,” she said.
(I want them to explain why they chose these three importers. I want him to say in front of the public why they thought that it was possible to import without the sugar order.)
“Saan sila humuhugot ng tapang? Sino nagbibigay ng go-signal? May mga mataas na opisyal ba na dapat managot dito? O may nagbibida-bida lang at gumawa ng sariling desisyon?” Hontiveros asked.
(Where do they draw courage from? Who gave go-signal? Is there a high-ranking official liable for this? Or someone just wanted to show off and made their own decision?)
This was the second time the probe into the sugar fiasco was postponed. In April, the Senate inquiry was deferred “in view of the foreign official trips and therefore the non-availability of several important resource persons.” – Rappler.com