Powerful forces at play

There remains a lot of missing pieces in the puzzle regarding the botched attempt to make money at the expense of the industry and the President.


September 4, 2022

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing had held four sessions on the probe over the sugar importation mess brought about by the rushed Sugar Order 4, which sought the massive 300,000 metric tons of imports.

The senators throughout the proceedings were perplexed as the four board members tagged behind the fiasco, resigned Sugar Regulatory Administration chief Hermenegildo Serafica, Department of Agriculture undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian and directors Roland Beltran and Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama Jr., took the risk to come up with the illegal order.

The situation made Senator Risa Hontiveros think out loud that it seems to her “that many powerful forces are at play.”

Senator Koko Pimentel asked the question which many were aching to ask: Why did the four members of the SRA board not bother to get the official reaction or position of the President, who is also acting secretary of the DA and chairman of the Board of SRA?

The main channel of communication on SO 4 with the Palace was through text messages, which according to senators was strange considering the huge “implications” of their action.

“You took the risk of being reversed (in signing SO 4)?” Pimentel asked.

The senators were looking at the angle of somebody higher than Serafica pulling the strings at SRA to induce the importation order.

“The consequences are too grave for you not to have gotten the prior approval and consent of your chairman,” Pimentel said.

The four were also disowned by Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez who said in his earlier testimony that “On 23 August 2022, I confronted Usec. Leo Sebastian and asked him why he did such a thing behind the President’s back without the President’s knowledge, and in an unfair and dishonorable way.”

It was Sebastian who signed SO 4 “for” President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Sebastian’s defense upon the intense Senate grilling also left the question on the SO 4 mastermind hanging.

Yet, he dropped clues on where the Senate should look for in tracking the brain behind the scam.

“You must remember that I was issued a memorandum, 15 July 2022, so that gave me the authority to sit in the SRA Board as ex officio. And, at the same time, I was also authorized to sign various documents. And even in that memo, there is a provision there that all our actions are considered regular unless reprobated or disapproved by the President,” Sebastian averred.

The DA undersecretary was referring to the Palace memorandum signed by Rodriguez designating Sebastian as Undersecretary for Operations.

Then Sebastian attributed the huge volume of importation to a “referendum” with stakeholders.

In that meeting, however, planters said they were asked to issue a resolution supporting importation of 300,000 MT since they were told by Serafica that it was “what the President ordered.”

There remains a lot of missing pieces in the puzzle regarding the botched attempt to make money at the expense of the industry and the President.

What is certain, however, are the efforts to cover up the tracks and mislead the Senate on the real culprit in the scam.

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