Rodriguez Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez clarifies before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that he is not hiding and that in fact he called up President Marcos Jr., and asked the President to allow him to attend the hearing on Sugar Order No. 4. Photo courtesy of Senate Public Relations Information Bureau (PRIB)

ES Rodriguez attends Senate hearing

September 6, 2022 Camille P. Balagtas 286 views

EXECUTIVE Secretary Victor Rodriguez appeared in the Senate, Tuesday, as he reiterated his willingness to participate in the ongoing hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Senator Francis Tolentino.

Rodriguez immediately went to Senate President Miguel Migz Zubiri who accompanied him to the ongoing Blue Ribbon Senate hearing to formally face the committee members and shed light on the controversial Sugar Order No. 4 issued by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) authorizing importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar.

The panel of the Blue Ribbon consists of 14 members (others are ex-officio which under the rules were also allowed to vote) and in an executive session voted 11 favoring the subpoena and three against it while another three of its members abstained from the votation.

Rodriguez clarified before the panel that he is not hiding and that in fact he called up President Marcos Jr., and asked the President to allow him to attend after learning about the subpoena. He admitted that the Chief Executive himself directed him to attend in person to clarify the issues and shed light on the event that transpired in connection with authorizing the controversial importation of sugar.

The Executive Secretary said he is more than willing to answer point by point the queries of members of the Blue Ribbon without hesitation.

“I would like to sincerely apologize if you have to resort to the issuance of the subpoena to compel my presence today,” Rodriguez told the senators.

“I have no intention whatsoever to disrespect the honorable members of the Senate, and the Senate as an institution,” Rodriguez, who missed two consecutive hearings, said as he expressed his sincere apologies to each and everyone during the hearing.

It was Minority Senator Risa Hontiveros who moved to subpoena Rodriguez insisting that they need to validate and cross examine the Executive Secretary on various details that need clarifications.

“That is why it is important for ES to face us in person at the very least via Zoom,” Hontiveros said as she explained that a written response from Rodriguez will not be sufficient to answer many questions.

Rodriguez earlier admitted that he finds it very hard to attend the September 6 hearing because of the heavy load of work that he is doing since President Marcos Jr., is presently in his state visit to Indonesia and Singapore.

During the probe, two former officials said Rodriguez did not immediately reply to a text message about the planned importation of 300,000 metric tons.

Zubiri recently expressed belief that Rodriguez is innocent and not part of the illegal order to import sugar citing the fact that he was instrumental in exposing this controversy to the president.

“Kung kasama siya dito bakit naman sya magsusumbong pa sa ating President?,” Zubiri was quoted as saying.

Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito for his part slammed officials of the SRA for snubbing the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s hearing this week and failing to show a plan of action on the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (SIDA).

During the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s third hearing on the recent sugar importation fiasco, Ejercito warned the SRA that its officials “cannot hide from the Senate” because they will be attending the Upper Chamber’s deliberations on the budget of the Department of Agriculture.

“I hope they can show up when we would want to know their plan of action. Magkikita pa tayo sa budget hearing. Remember, you cannot hide. May budget hearing pa ang DA. Pag nagtago pa kayo nang nagtago, magkikita pa tayo sa budget hearing,” he said.

“Please relay. Kasi naka-dalawa na. Di niyo dapat inii-snub ang Blue Ribbon kasi you cannot hide from us,” he added.

SRA Deputy Administrator for Regulations Guillermo Tejida explained that members of the Sugar Board, the agency’s governing body, could not attend the hearing since they had to attend a meeting of the Governance Commission for Government-owned or Controlled Corporations.

The remark irked Ejercito, who then blasted the SRA for refusing to use the opportunity to explain its side on its failure to fully implement the SIDA.

The lawmaker pointed out that such failure, as well as the agency’s inclination towards importation, resulted in the non-utilization of the P2 billion budget allotted initially for the implementation of the said law.

“Ang una, ang excuse, na-COVID. They were under quarantine. Ngayon, wala kasi nasa GCG naman. How will we get to the bottom of this? Because in aid of legislation, kaya nga tayo naririto, we want to improve the implementation of the SIDA Law,” Ejercito said.

“Nanghihinayang tayo. Six, seven years have passed and we’re back to square one because of too much importation,” he added.

Sugar stakeholders, including United Sugar Producers Federation president Manuel Lamata, agreed with Ejercito’s observation.

“It wasn’t administered well. It wasn’t implemented well […] Kung natuto lang ‘tong administrator na ito, ang dami-daming tractor na nabili, ang dami-daming irrigation units, ang daming naitulong,” Lamata said. By CAMILLE P. BALAGTAS & PS JUN M. SARMIENTO