Senate of the Philippines

Vic Rodriguez attends sugar fiasco probe after Senate subpoenas him

Ralf Rivas
Vic Rodriguez attends sugar fiasco probe after Senate subpoenas him

ES RODRIGUEZ FACES BLUE RIBBON HEARING. Shortly after members of the blue ribbon committee voted to subpoena him, Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez appears before the panel on September 6, 2022.

Senate PRIB

(1st UPDATE) Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez finally attends the sugar fiasco hearing after 11 members of the Senate blue ribbon committee vote to subpoena him to appear before the panel

MANILA, Philippines – Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez finally appeared before the Senate blue ribbon committee for the hearing on the sugar importation mess on Tuesday, September 6, after the panel subpoenaed him to attend the inquiry.

Rodriguez arrived at the Senate shortly after 11 of the 17 members of the Senate panel, in an executive session, voted in favor of the subpoena. Three members voted against it while three abstained.

The Executive Secretary told the panel that when he learned about the subpoeana, he informed President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. about it, and he was directed to attend that day’s hearing.

He assured the senators that in initially informing them that he could not attend the hearing, there was “no intent to disrespect the Senate.”

Vic Rodriguez attends sugar fiasco probe after Senate subpoenas him
What prompted the subpoena?

Prior to the executive session, Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros made a motion to subpoena Rodriguez – seconded by Minorty Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III – after the Palace official’s latest communication to the panel reiterating his reason for not attending the hearing that day.

Rodriguez informed the panel in a letter that “per the instructions of President Ferdinand Marcos, I will not be able to attend the hearings.”

In an earlier letter, he cited: “The undersigned has been directed to focus on the preparations for the upcoming State visits of the President to Indonesia on 04 to 06 September 2022 and to Singapore on 06 to 07 September 2022, the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, and the hearings on the proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget of the Office of the President. These upcoming events and deliberations also coincide with my multifarious functions as the Executive Secretary and member of the Cabinet that need my personal attention.”

Rodriguez also told the committee that he would only be able to cooperate through “written answers,” a response that did not sit well with Risa Hontiveros, who moved to have Rodriguez subpoenaed.

“Bakit written lang ang pagsagot nila? Bakit hindi nila nire-respeto ang imbitasyon ng Blue Ribbon [Committee]?” Hontiveros said, who is with the minority bloc.

(Why will they respond only via written answers? Why are they not respecting the invitation of the blue ribbon committee?)

Rodriguez was able to briefly attend the first hearing on sugar importation, but left midway due to a Cabinet meeting. Lawmakers were unable to ask him questions.

Senators want to ask Rodriguez details about Sugar Order No. 4, which granted the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar, signed by then Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian. Malacañang then went on to deny that Marcos approved the said order, even though Sebastian was empowered to sign documents on Marcos’ behalf.

Sebastian said that a memorandum from Rodriguez prompted him to sign the said order. Sebastian, as well as Sugar Regulatory Administration Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica has since resigned due to the fiasco.

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Before the vote

So, who voted what? Filipinos are unlikely to know, since the voting was conducted in an executive session.

Senators briefly debated whether the votes would be done in executive session or not.

Pimentel told the committee that the “image” of the Senate was at stake, as they would be voting on a “very simple” matter behind closed doors.

“I am concerned about the image of the Senate Blue Ribbon, I want it strengthened, I want it to have a very good reputation as part of its strength, because a very strong Blue Ribbon also means a strong Senate as an institution,” Pimentel said, who is also a member of the minority bloc.

“Huwag tayong kumagat na si ES [Rodriguez] na ang nagsusulat ng script natin (Let us not let ES Rodriguez write our script).

Senator Francis Tolentino, committee chair, assured Pimentel and Filipinos of transparency.

“Senator Pimentel, rest assured that what we are doing will be transparent and to the best interest not just of the Blue Ribbon, the Senate, but the Filipino people as well. Pagbigyan ‘nyo na kami dito, 15 to 20 minutes lang ito (Let this slide, this will only be 15 to 20 minutes),” Tolentino told Pimentel.

The committee will be having another hearing on Thursday, with Rodriguez expected to attend through the subpoena. –

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Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.