Truth elusive, Risa says of sugar fiasco

September 8, 2022

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday expressed her dismay at the termination of the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the sugar importation fiasco, adding that the truth did not come out from the panel’s hearings.

“An effective fact-finding process requires the complete facts. In the case of the sugar fiasco, the truth remains elusive because so many details were left hanging. It was not enough,” Hontiveros said.

On Tuesday, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee wrapped up its inquiry on the fiasco involving the “illegal” import order released by Sugar Regulatory Administration.

Senator Francis Tolentino, chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee, said the panel may come up with its report on Thursday.

“I maintain that there are more questions that need to be asked about this fiasco. Former (Sugar Regulatory Administration) chief (Hermenegildo) Serafica, as corroborated by former Board Member (Aurelio) Valderrama, offered new information that could help explain why Undersecretary (Leocadio) Sebastian proceeded with the sugar order,” she added.

The senator is referring to the statement of Serafica, who said that in an online meeting on 4 August, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had floated the idea of importing 600,000 metric tons of sugar into the country.

“I think we should study this thoroughly and if there is evidence that can prove this, the committee should look into it. I will look for this in the committee report,” she said.

Hontiveros also questioned why Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez did not mention the 4 August meeting of the president with Sebastian in the previous hearings.

“It seems like Admin. Serafica was not the only one that withheld information in the early part of the hearing. It should also reflect in the committee report,” she said.

She added that the Upper Chamber should still conduct a probe on allegations of the kickback scheme in the importation of sugar.

Likewise, Hontiveros urged the Senate to also look into the people behind the raids of warehouses that store “hoarded” sugar, which eventually came out to have legitimate import permits.

She expressed her gratitude to her fellow lawmakers who voted in favor of her motion to subpoena Rodriguez, who earlier refused to attend the panel’s hearings “upon the instructions” of the president.

“But what happened yesterday was a victory for the independence of the Senate. I thank my fellow senators who supported my motion to implead the Executive Secretary,” she said.

“This shows we cannot be dictated upon by a co-equal branch of government,” she added.

Of the 17 members of the panel, 14 participated, 11 members voted in favor of subpoenaing Rodriguez, three members were against it while three members abstained.

Hontiveros said she will study the partial committee report “very carefully,” and “will check how it presents these details that have been left hanging.”

“I can only hope that it contains conclusions based on the evidence and based on testimonies of all the stakeholders, not just a few,” she said.

She added: “My heart will not be at peace if we would not be able to know who among them is telling the truth.”

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