Senate minority: Rodriguez ‘not blameless’ in sugar import fiasco

Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez (Photo by Joey Sanchez Mendoza)
Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez (Photo by Joey Sanchez Mendoza)

Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez is "not blameless" in the recent sugar importation fiasco, the Senate minority bloc said Tuesday.

In a joint press conference, the Senate minority bloc composed of Senators Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III and Risa Hontiveros released their own findings on the sugar importation mess.

Contrary to the findings of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that conducted three hearings over the issue, Pimentel said Rodriguez played a  huge role in the creation of Sugar Order No. (SO) 4.

"Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez is not entirely blameless in the so-called fiasco behind  Sugar Order No. 4," Pimentel said, referring to the "illegal" resolution that supposedly would have authorized the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar into the country.

Likewise, Hontiveros raised the "silence" of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the "inefficiency" of Rodriguez which led to the creation of the resolution.

"It was unfortunate that the Blue Ribbon report had failed or purposely refrained to discuss the part played by Executive Secretary Rodriguez in this unfortunate debacle," she said.

"It was clear to us early on that all communications related to the issuance of S.O. No. 4 were timely and clearly communicated to the Executive Secretary. However, the Executive Secretary's unilateral decision to sit on it contributed to the debacle," she added.

The minority bloc also expressed its opposition to the recommendation to file criminal and administrative charges against suspended Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, former Sugar Regulatory Administration chief Hermegenildo Serafica, and former Sugar Board members Roland Beltran and Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama Jr.

"It was baseless. It will be an injustice for them if they will be charged with cases. This administration should not pick on someone who is just doing their work," Hontiveros said.

Pimentel also noted that the panel's recommendation to file charges against the former officials who were signatories of the resolution is "undeserved, uncalled for, and unjustified."

Hontiveros reiterated that Rodriguez played a role in the sugar importation fiasco. However, she said she will leave it to the authorities whether the official should be charged.

"If ever, we would leave it to the investigative and law enforcement authorities, but it is clear to us that he — being the highest official in the bureaucracy or primus inter pares — should be the gatekeeper for the president. He is the primary person to protect the principal, protect the President," she said.

"While we are saying that the four former officials, who have now become scapegoats, have no criminal liabilities, at least on the moral level, the ES has accountability," she added.

Last week, the Blue Ribbon panel said that charges for graft, smuggling, and usurpation of official functions should be filed against the signatories of the resolution.

Sebastian earlier said that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Rodriguez did not object to the sugar importation order created by the Sugar Regulatory Administration.

'Shortage is real'

Based on the minority bloc's report, the two senators also said that there is a sugar shortage.

"There is a clear, actual, indubitable, and undeniable existing sugar shortage, which is dangerous if insufficiently and/or inadequately addressed," the document read.

"Contrary to the insinuations made, and as aptly explained in the hearings, the 300,000 metric tons figure mentioned in SO No. 4 did not come from thin air, but is based on facts, historical data, and a result of consultation with stakeholders," it added.

Hontiveros cited that many companies such as Coca-Cola were forced to suspend their plants due to the sugar shortage, which affected the salaries of their workers.

"The sugar shortage has very dangerous and real consequences for Filipino workers and Filipino consumers. It has to be addressed as soon as possible," she said.

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