‘Miscommunication’: Marcos clears former SRA officials in sugar import mess
Former Agriculture undersecretary Leocadio S. Sebastian
The Office of the President has dismissed the case against former Agriculture and Sugar Regulatory Administration officials who were behind the supposed illegal approval of Sugar Order No. 4 that approved the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar amid its tight supply in mid-2022.
In a 10-page decision dated 29 December 2022, the OP cleared former Agriculture undersecretary Leocadio S. Sebastian, former SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, former SRA board member Roland Beltran, and former SRA board member Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama, Jr.
The former officials were charged with grave misconduct, gross dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service in connection with SO No. 4.
“From the totality of the evidence, this Office finds that the issuance of SO No. 4 was done in good faith absent any showing that the respondents were aware of their lack of authority,” the decision read.
“The respondents thought they were authorized because of miscommunication,” it added.
The OP noted that the root cause of “miscommunication” was the memorandum issued by then Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez dated 15 July 2022.
The memorandum granted Sebastian authority to “sign contracts, memorandum of agreement, administrative issuances, instruments, and administrative and financial documents necessary to carry out department objectives, policies, functions, plans, programs, and projects, for the efficient and effective operations of the DA.”
The officials prepared SO No. 4 in accordance with the directive by the President to come up with an importation plan, the draft of which was sent to Rodriguez on 5 August 2022.
Having received no objection, all four Sugar Board members assumed the memo’s approval, thus they approved SO No. 4 with four affirmative votes on 9 August 2022. Sebastian signed his name over the appellation for “H.E. President Ferdinand R. Marcos, SRA Board Chairperson, and DA Secretary.”
A day after, on 10 August, Sebastian personally informed the President that the Sugar Board had approved SO No. 4.
But the President disapproved the move and ordered the recall of SO No. 4, so it was not released.
On 11 August, both Serafica and Sebastian apologized for the issuance of SO No. 4 and offered to resign from their positions.
Malacañang subsequently launched an investigation to determine who would be held accountable for the supposed “illegal” and “unauthorized” signing of the order greenlighting more sugar imports.
In its decision, the OP said it found that Sebastian had signed SO No. 4 upon an honest belief that he was authorized to do so and that he immediately informed the President about it, belying “any insinuation that there was a united effort to conceal the same.”
“The manner by which Sebastian signed his name over the printed name of the President, while not in accordance with the proper protocol, in the absence of bad faith, does not confer liability, particularly because there is no indication that he knew the implications thereof,” the decision read.
The OP also found that “there exists no clear and convincing evidence to suggest that the respondents committed any misconduct” and “neither can respondents be guilty of dishonesty.”
“Notably, there is no showing that respondents issued the order in order to materially benefit from it. Neither can respondents be guilty of dishonesty,” the decision said.
“There is no proof that respondents concealed the issuance of the order from the President. On the contrary, the attendant circumstances indicate respondents’ intention to apprise the President as to the preparation of and approval of Sugar Order No. 4,” it said.
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