Sugar Order 4 and its ghost

How can SRA best accomplish its three-pronged task if its supply chain monitoring system leaves much to be desired?

Insofar as the Senate inquiry and plenary ratification are concerned, the “verdict” — done in a huff — apparently found those involved as having committed acts of “serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and gross insubordination under the revised rules on administrative cases in the civil service.” When push comes to shove, the menacing footprints the probe resulted in might be difficult to undo.

These are: First, issuing copies of the committee report to the Bureau of Immigration of the names of Leocadio Sebastian, Hermenegildo Serafica, Roland Beltran and Aurelio Valderrama Jr. in the “lookout bulletin”; second, filing of criminal and administrative charges against the President’s former chief of staff in the Department of Agriculture and three resigned officials of the Sugar Regulatory Administration; and third, directing the Ombudsman to file graft charges against the four for alleged corrupt practices, violation of Republic Act 10845 (Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016) and usurpation of authority. All these stemmed from Sugar Order 4 and its ghost.

The Senate Committee Report signed by 14 senators registers one dissenter from the opposition. To loosen the noose, the Senate Minority Leader in tandem with the lady oppositionist read the highlights of their Minority Report and signed it in a press conference held for the purpose.

Nibbling around the edges, the lady claims it made the grilled officials “mere fall guys,” while the gentleman believes of a case of “miscommunication” between Malacañang and SRA. At the “victims” end, one Valderrama counters the accusations as “baseless and false”; his conscience clear; their pack made as scapegoats.

The other high point is the position that they usurped their authority than acted as a board. Transversely, the “miscommunication” view stands on an ice floe given the latitude that a chief of staff or alter ego is expected to enjoy.

It bears stressing that the money value of 300,000 metric tons of sugar is P12 billion, give or take. It couldn’t strain the imagination to think that under such given, any cavalier notion of carte blanche would not prescribe.

SO4 has become nullibiquitous borne out of this mess. Thus, an individual or researcher is deprived of being able to reexamine what its contents are. Suffice to say that half of the intended sugar volume shall be for industrial users and half to non-industrial ones or domestic use.

The ghost of SO4 will haunt those who have seen it and those who have not. One wonders if a copy of it has been filed with the Office of National Registrar of UP Law Center, or if it has taken effect three days after filing with the same — as in earlier “Sugar Orders.”

It can only be surmised from the outlines — using Sugar Order 3 as a proxy reference — that the controversial SO4, now removed from public view and a “ghost document” may have only differed with the former in terms of volume alone. It means that import was raised from 200,000 to 300,000 metric tons under essentially the 50-50 sharing scheme so provided under SO3.

In this homegrown fiasco, few lessons can be drawn. One, SRA, as a government-owned and controlled corporation, must dutifully focus on its mandate a la horse with blinders.

Two, Congress must consider sugar importation as a form of major procurement and therefore subject to appropriate level of approving authority.

Three, to revalidate whether importing sugar is a stabilizing factor to the price of domestic sugar.

Four, SRA and the Bureau of Customs — as gatekeepers — must put their acts together, not one’s role begins when the other one ends.

Five, SRA must stick to the knitting — stabilize price, ensure domestic supply, regulate sugar import.

Now that it’s curtain call to this probe, how can SRA best accomplish its three-pronged task if its supply chain monitoring system leaves much to be desired? This is even aggravated by the strong perception that its beleaguered officials appear to be armchair bureaucrats overdependent on “skewed” reportorial data or desk research.

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