Man up, ES told

Pimentel insisted that the congressional investigation on the attempt to illegally import 300,000 metric tons of sugar should not be closed until Rodriguez is cross-examined.

Senators Aquilino Pimentel III and Risa Hontiveros challenged Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez yesterday to attend anew the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation on the attempted illegal importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar.

Pimentel insisted that the congressional hearings should not be closed “until and unless we, of the committee, get to cross-examine ES Rodriguez on the testimony he gave.”

“This is our right as members of the Blue Ribbon Committee, and also as a matter of fairness to those he mentioned in his testimony in a very negative light,” he stressed.

Hontiveros questioned Rodriguez’s excuse why he would no longer attend the next hearing of the Senate committee cloaked with oversight functions.

Rodriguez attended the first hearing but excused himself before he could answer the senators’ questions.

“Why would ES Rodriguez be an exemption? He has yet to finish his 100 days in the office; he already has an excuse letter. He just needs to attend. Does he fear a recitation?” she asked.

Hontiveros said former high-ranking officials of government have routinely attended hearings of the panel to answer questions.

However, nearing the end of the previous administration, then-President Rodrigo Duterte, barred his top officials from attending congressional hearings without his prior approval.

Duterte said the hearings had been taking too much of the time of his secretaries when they should be focusing on the Covid-19 pandemic. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., on the other hand, has not made a pronouncement similar to Duterte’s.

“As far as I am concerned, my motion, carried by my colleagues, stands. The Executive Secretary should present himself before the Blue Ribbon,” she said.

According to the resigned Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, it was Rodriguez who cloaked him with the authority to sign Sugar Order 4 for and on behalf of President Marcos.

Marcos is concurrently DA Secretary and head of the Sugar Regulatory Administration which issued SO 4. Sebastian said that during his meetings with the President and Rodriguez on 1 and 4 August, he got the impression that the importation had been greenlighted.

Hontiveros said the Palace may be receiving misleading information from an individual she did not name.

“Last night, there was a cargo that has been allegedly carrying smuggled sugar. However, it turned out that the shipping has legal papers,” she said.

“Someone seems to be feeding Malacañang misleading information, and now the question is, what are the motivations behind it? While the ES continues to skip the hearings, the suspicions also grow. The questions only remain unanswered,” she added.

Pimentel and Hontiveros insisted on Rodriguez answering questions after Senator Francis Tolentino, chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee, told members of the media that the panel would wrap up its investigation with a partial committee report even without the attendance of Rodriguez.

Tolentino said he received a letter from Rodriguez informing the panel of his absence from the next committee hearing scheduled on Tuesday, 6 September, because he would focus on the preparations for the President’s upcoming foreign trips.

The next hearing would be the panel’s last, Tolentino said.

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