Former SRA execs ‘grilled’ over sugar import woes

August 30, 2022 Camille P. Balagtas 337 views

SENATORS grilled former officials of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), led by ex-SRA chief Hermenegildo Serafica and former Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, during the continuation of the joint hybrid hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and the Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform on the alleged irregular sugar importation order, Tuesday, August 30, 2022.

According to Blue Ribbon Chair Francis Tolentino, the committee also invited the three newly appointed SRA board members, but all had contracted COVID-19 and only attended online.

Tolentino, during the continuation of the Blue Ribbon committee hearing, said they need to know the context and justification for the issuance of Sugar Order (SO) No. 4 on whether or not there was a genuine sugar shortage to justify the issuance of SO4; whether or not the industry groups were consulted before the issuance of SO4; on whether or not sugar industry personalities were “misled” to be believed that the President wants SO4 to be issued to address a national emergency.

Tolentino, in the course of the hearing, also said he is curious about whether or not ex-DA Usec. Sebastian and the other members of the SRA board had “legal authority” to issue SO4, whether or not Sebastian was authorized to sign SO4, and whether or not there was a valid corporate action.

“I need some clarity on these things,” Tolentino said.

For his part, Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito expressed his frustration over the supposed lack of implementation of two laws meant to protect and help Filipino sugarcane farmers and industry workers.

Ejercito lamented that government agencies seemed to be ignoring their duties under Republic Act (RA) 10659 or the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (SIDA) of 2015, and RA 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.

Ejercito first raised concern over the reduced SIDA allocation for the sugar industry, noting that amounts from 2016 to 2020 were “way below” the mandated annual appropriation of P2 billion.

He also asked the Bureau of Customs (BOC) for updates on its recent inspection of warehouses suspected of hoarding imported sugar and on cases filed against suspected smugglers as part of its enforcement of RA 10845.

“Six years or seven years have passed [since] the passage of these measures, it seems we have just disregarded the two laws,” Ejercito said during the hearing.

Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa meanwhile asked Acting Customs Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz whether he has data relating to the prosecution and conviction rate of agricultural smuggling cases.

Dela Rosa stressed the need to inform the public about the cases filed as a “follow-up” to the raids on smuggled goods conducted by the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Ruiz responded that the agency is in the process of completing the list and committed to submitting the report.

Dela Rosa said he hopes BOC will be able to show the public the “real situation” on smuggling cases and what happens along the way in the prosecution of cases by the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the conviction by the courts if any.

“I am not imputing malice into these pillars of the criminal justice system, but just to clear the doubts of the Filipino people, let us show them the real situation; give us the data,” Dela Rosa insists during the hearing.