Press Release
August 18, 2022

Hontiveros urges Malacanang: Fix leadership issues at DA, prevent looming crisis on sugar

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to fix the "deeply problematic" leadership issues in the Department of Agriculture (DA), and appoint an Agriculture Secretary who would focus on preventing an impending crisis on sugar and other essential products.

Hontiveros said that the recent controversy involving an unauthorized order by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) shows the need for a revamp of the leadership structure of the DA and its attached agencies, especially with the looming shortage of sugar and skyrocketing sugar prices in the country.

"This fiasco with the SRA is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the chaotic organization and operation of the DA. The president should reconsider his position and appoint a competent person who would take charge of the DA, end all controversies in the department, and focus on helping farmers and ensuring adequate food supply in the country," she said.

President Marcos, who earlier appointed himself as concurrent DA Secretary and SRA Board Chairman, has disavowed and declared illegal the "Sugar Order No. 4" issued by the SRA for the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar to allegedly help solve the country's deficit of around 200,000 metric tons of sugar this year.

Several SRA and DA officials have since resigned from their posts due to the issue, including former DA Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, who signed the order as chief of staff of the DA Secretary. According to media reports, Sebastian had been given authority to sign contracts, memoranda of agreement, administrative issuances, and administrative and financial documents involving the DA by virtue of a July 15, 2022 memorandum issued by the office of Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez.

Hontiveros noted that the said order also reportedly contained the president's own signature, although Malacanang later claimed that this signature had been faked, and that the president rejected the plan to import sugar into the country.

"It is clear by now that having the president also perform the tasks of a DA Secretary only causes confusion and dysfunctionality in the bureaucracy. Take note, this took place within the first 100 days of the current administration. The public will continue to suffer from more of these blunders if no reforms are made to the DA's leadership structure," Hontiveros said.

The senator noted that the president is already the head of numerous government offices and is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. "As clearly shown by the situation in the DA, it is very difficult to do all of those responsibilities and at the same time focus on the myriad of programs that must be handled by the DA Secretary," she added.

"Kapag tumaas ang presyo ng asukal, magmamahal din ang presyo ng maraming produkto at bilihin. Sobrang pahirap na iyan sa mamamayan. Hindi pwedeng part-time job ang pagtutok sa krisis na ito. Kailangan natin ng magaling at maayos na Secretary sa DA na full-time na tutulong sa mga magsasaka at konsumer," Hontiveros concluded.

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