An undersecretary in the Department of Agriculture who authorized the importation of 300,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar without the President’s approval has resigned, the Palace said late Friday evening.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said Leocadio Sebastian has resigned as DA undersecretary for operations and chief of staff to Marcos as the concurrent DA Secretary.
In a letter to the President dated August 11, Sebastian apologized to the chief executive for having approved Sugar Order No. 4 without the expressed approval of Marcos, who, as DA secretary, is also chairman of the Sugar Regulatory Board.
“I sincerely offer my apologies, Your Excellency, for my having approved Sugar Order no.4 on your behalf, and through the authority you have vested upon me…I take accountability and responsibility for its consequences,” Sebastian said in his one-page letter.
Cruz-Angeles has earlier described Sugar Order No. 4 as “illegal.”
Cruz-Angeles said Sebastian’s resignation will not affect the filing of a criminal case against him, should the ongoing probe find it necessary to do so.
“It affects the administrative case, but if there is a criminal case, it is not affected. However, in his resignation, he made admissions, so in case a criminal case os filed—and let me be clear that we are not saying that there will automatically be a criminal case—hen those admissions can be presented as evidence for the prosecution,” she said.
“If the investigation reveals that there are criminal acts here, then he will be appropriately charged, but we are not just talking about Usec. Sebastian but the entire board. We will have to see the liabilities of the other board members,” the Palace official added.
Earlier in the day, Cruz-Angeles said the investigation of the Department of Agriculture will go beyond the aborted attempt by the SRA to authorize the sugar importation.
“I’m sure the President has already noted this,” Cruz-Angeles said of Senator Imee Marcos’ recommendation.
“We cannot reveal the plans yet because the investigation will probably cover a more extensive review than simply the resolution that was issued by the Sugar Regulatory Board,” she said.
The resolution approving the sugar importation was uploaded on the SRA’s website but was later deleted.
Meanwhile, the United Sugar Producers Federation (UNIFED) said there is no shortage of sugar in the country, but the presence of middlemen is driving the retail price to an unreasonable level.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, UNIFED President Manuel Lamata said the milling season started last week so there is no problem with supply.
But he urged the Marcos administration to address the exorbitant prices of sugar in the market.
He said farmers and planters sell raw brown sugar at P45/kilo. But retail prices reach up to P100/kilo. Considering the cost of refining the sugar and other expenses, Lamata believes the prices cannot be justified, and blamed middlemen for the high prices.
“There are too many middlemen. The traders buy from us then send it to the refiners. Shippers will add more fees then send it to the re-baggers. It piles up before it reaches the market. Many are making profit from it; that’s why the price is going up,” he said in Filipino.
UNIFED thanked the President for averting a possible disaster by stopping the SRA plan to import 300,000 metric tons of raw and refined sugar.
Lamata alleged that SRA’s claim of a sugar shortage was only meant to create a fake need for imports.
Sugar industry stakeholders on Friday lauded President Marcos’ rejection of the SRA bid to import sugar.
In a statement, the Asociacion de Agricultores de La Carlota y Pontevedra Inc. (AALCPI), the La Carlota Mill District Multi-Purpose Cooperative (LCMDMPC) and UNIFED welcomed the scrapping of Sugar Order No. 4 (SO4).
“With the start of the milling season, the need to import additional sugar is ill advised,” AACLPI and LCMDMPC general manager David Alba said.
“We are thankful that President Marcos vetoed the order as five mills in Negros Occidental already resumed operations,” Alba added.
AACLPI and LCMDMPC are groups of sugar planters in Negros Occidental—the sugar capital of the Philippines.
Alba said that data from the SRA showed that there are 4 million bags of sugar that entered the country through the SO3 import program, where the country imported 200,000 MT of refined sugar to augment a projected supply shortfall for the year.
“However, this sugar is not being made available to Juan De La Cruz since they are in the bodegas of the industrial users,” he said.
“In order to address the perceived sugar supply shortage in the country, we are recommending to President Marcos to reverse the SRA order and instead, release this sugar for the benefit of the consumers and retailers,” Alba added.