Malacañang denies knowledge of 300K-MT sugar importation

Malacañang on Tuesday, Aug. 23 denied knowledge of the attempted importation of 300,000 metric tons (MTs) of sugar to address the supposed supply deficit in the country.

Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez said it was only on Aug 10 that they learned that former Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian already signed the controversial Sugar Order (SO) No. 4 on behalf of acting DA Secretary President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., although without the latter's knowledge.

"On 10 August, Wednesday, after the meeting in the state dining room of Malacañang, we learned that the SRA, through Usec. Leocadio Sebastian, passed a resolution approving Sugar Order No. 4 without submitting to us the following: the importation plan which should be the precursor for any sugar order to be issued, no knowledge of acting secretary, His Excellency Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and without even convening the SRA (Sugar Regulatory Administration) board," Rodriguez said during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing.

Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez (Senate PRIB)

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles had earlier said the President had rejected the proposal to import 300,000 MTs of sugar, although she did not give any other information.

The signing happened although there were still no updates from the President on what to do regarding their recent discussion on how to bring down the prices of rice and sugar.

In the afternoon and on the night of Aug. 7, Rodriguez said he received text messages from the Sebastian, asking about "any instructions from the President after his meeting with SINAG (Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura) on Sugar" as well as about "additional funding for rice".

"I purposely did not answer him dahil wala pang tugon ang Pangulo (because there was no reply yet from the President)," Rodriguez admitted, saying he did that because "these are the matters that are still on the table" of the President.

Although on Aug. 5, Rodriguez said, his office already received the draft of the SO No. 4 as well as a memo containing the recommendation to import 300,000 MTs of sugar. Malacañang still did not immediately approve it.

"I confronted Usec. Leo Sebastian and asked him why he did such a thing behind the President's back, without the President's knowledge and in an unfair and dishonorable way," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez then demanded Sebastian to call former Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica and board member Roland Beltran to ask the same thing.

"At yun din po ang nakuha kong sagot... Akala ko po kasi okay na sabi ni Usec. Leo... Ganon din ang sagot ni Senior Usec. Sebastian (I got the same answers from all of them, they said they thought it's already okay to import)," he added.