The Senate has approved on second reading the Blue Ribbon Committee report that recommended administrative and criminal charges against a Department of Agriculture official and three former Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) executives over the controversial Sugar Order No. 4.
The Blue Ribbon panel has earlier recommended charges before the Office of the Ombudsman against suspended Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, former SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, and former Sugar Board members Roland Beltran and Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama Jr.
This developed after committee chairman Francis Tolentino introduced the following amendments to the committee report:
Except for those in the military and the uniformed personnel services, those designated as officer-in-charge in all government agencies, including GOCCs, shall have a limited non-extendible tenure of not more than 60 days
The committee report will be furnished to the Department of Justice, Commission on Audit, Office of the Ombudsman, and Bureau of Immigration Deportation for their information and appropriate action, including but not limited to the conduct of the necessary preliminary investigation, sectoral performance audit, and possible issuance of immigration lookout bulletin against the respondents if the case warrants.
The minority report shall be appended and made part of the committee report for purposes of transmittal to other government agencies and the public.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros indicated in the minority report that then-Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez played a part in the “unfortunate debacle.”
Pimentel said the minority bloc would no longer propose individual amendments as it was “satisfied” with the inclusion of their report as an appendix in the committee report.
The report said “preliminary evidence on record” indicated that the four—all signatories to SO 4—committed administrative offenses of serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and gross insubordination.
The criminal charges, the committee report said, involve graft and corruption, agricultural smuggling, and usurpation of official functions.
Sugar Order No. 4 mandated the importation of 300,000 tons of sugar, a move which Malacañang said was illegal, as it did not have the approval and signature of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the concurrent Secretary of Agriculture who is also the Sugar Board’s chairperson.
Sebastian said during the hearings that he signed SO 4 on behalf of Marcos since a July 15 memorandum issued by Rodriguez authorized him to do so.
Sebastian told the panel that the memorandum said he would sit “as ex-officio chairman or member of all duly constituted administration,
committees, councils, boards, bodies where the Secretary of Agriculture is a member.”