The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) on Monday said the resignation of Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian will not shield him and his cohorts from criminal liability for signing an illegal order for the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar.
SINAG chairman Rosendo So said the probe should include the culpability of other officials of the Department of Agriculture and Sugar Regulatory Administration who were responsible for recommending and approving Sugar Order No. 4.
So also called for an inquiry into the sudden surge in the retail price of sugar, from P80 per kilo two weeks ago to P100 per kilo as of August 12, 2022.
The SINAG head recalled that in a previous meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez, and SRA officials, no tacit approval was given to import 300,000 MT of sugar.
“During our meeting, there was no final agreement on the need to import sugar as the SRA has yet to hold consultations with other stakeholders such as the producers, retailers, distributors and repackers,” he said.
As local producers have started milling their own product, the directive given to the SRA was to conduct consultations to determine if there is an actual supply shortfall that would merit importation.
Sebastian, however, signed the importation order without the approval of Marcos, who as DA chief is also the chairman of the SRA.
“The instruction of the ES and the President’s office is to determine carefully why the price of sugar suddenly increase. So the SRA should have talked first with local producers to determine why there is sudden surge in the domestic prices of sugar,” So said.
“The Department of Agriculture and the SRA are claiming that there is a shortfall of only 100,000 metric tons of sugar. But why did they approve the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar?” he added.
Over the weekend, President Marcos said there may be a need to import about 150,000 MT of sugar come October.
“Perhaps, come October, our domestic supply will already run short and we may need to import, but it will only be a little. It will not be as many as the 300,000 metric tons that they are saying. Perhaps 150,000 metric tons will already be more than enough for the entire year. In my opinion, we cut down significantly on the importation of sugar,” Marcos said.
Senator Imee Marcos, for her part, said the resignation of Sebastian was not enough as she assailed the DA’s plan to import white onions due to an alleged supply shortage.
So said Marcos and Rodriguez both urged local stakeholders to communicate with the DA “to determine if there is food shortage,”—referring to the supply of pork, chicken, as well as white onions.
“We were instructed by Executive Secretary Rodriguez that we should monitor the price of not only sugar but also pork and chicken, and to keep it affordable,” So said.
“The price of white onion is high and that is a problem, but we have enough supply of red onions,” he added.