Press Release
August 30, 2022

Blue Ribbon Committee Hearing on Sugar Fiasco
August 30, 2022

SRH: Sir (Usec Sebastian), news reports say that certain quarters are mulling criminal and/or administrative cases against you. However, you told this Blue Ribbon Committee you proceeded in good faith. Ano po ang nagpapaniwala sa inyo na si Presidente at si ES na inaasahan ko talagang makarating sa hearing natin ngayong umaga, what made you believe that they, the President and the Executive Secretary were supportive of the importation?

Usec Sebastian: The sugar shortage, supply shortage is greatly manifested by the rising price of sugar your honor and this was already giving a lot of concern from different sectors, from the private sector, from the industry, even from the other departments of government were already expressing their concerns. This was tackled during our meeting in Malacanang on August 1, 2022.

SRH: Yun po yung binanggit ni Chair sa established facts, yung pulong noong August 1, noong binirief ninyo, mga dating liderato ng SRA si presidente tungkol sa sugar situation.

Usec: Not just SRA officials your honor because this was a DA meeting with the PResident so there were other people present like other officials of the Department of Agriculture.

SRH: Who other officials were there?

Usec: The undersecretary for policy and planning was there. Undersecretary Mercy Sombilla, the SRA administrator was there, the PCA administrator was also there, administrator benjie madrigal. The president of the Land Bank was also there, your honor.

SRH: At the end of that meeting with all of those agricultural officials present kasama na po kayong dating liderato ng SRA, nakausap nyo si Presidente, ES was there of course?

Usec: Yes your Honor. Only Administrator Serafica was there. The other members of the Board were not there.

SRH: At the end of that meeting, ano pong nagbuo ng conviction ninyo that both the President and the ES supported importation of sugar?

Usec: There were two things that the President want to act fast, your Honor. Which he expressed during that meeting, that is one, redirect classification, we have to do it as soon as possible, reclassification from reserved to domestic use of sugar. Second, the need to augment our local supplies through importation.

SRH: Was that explicitly said by the President?

Usec: Yes, your Honor That was one of the part of the briefing SRA Administrator gave and also the President agreed there's a need to consider that. In fact, Administrator Serafica was given instruction to start preparing a sugar importation program, your Honor

SRH: And the ES was at that meeting kung saan sinabi ni President, pangalawa sa gusto nyang gawin ninyo kaagad sa SRA ay isupplement ang supply through importation.

Usec: Yes your Honor

SRH: Sumuporta ba si ES sa ganoong sinabi ni Presidente o may ibinigay silang ibang opinyon?

Usec: There were no objections to the importation program, Your Honor, or any reservation.

SRH: To continue, former Usec. Sebastian, tama po ba yung conclusion ko sa mga sinabi mo so far na naniniwala kayo, inakala ninyo na supportive si Presidente sa importation dahil sinabi nila na one of the two things he wants the SRA to do ay i-supplement yung current supply through importation at naniwala kayo inakala ninyo na supportive si ES sa importation dahil hindi sila nag-object sa ganong sinabi ni Presidente, tama po ba?

Usec: Yes, your Honor, and in addition to that there was also the August 4 meeting where I got the feedback although I was not in that meeting, I got a feedback from Administrator Serafica when he emailed me that he was instructed to actually draft the sugar importation program by the President, Your Honor. And if you are instructed to draft the sugar importation program, your honor, that means they are already aware that there's an importation that has been planned or even the number that is supposed to be imported, is already they've already been informed about it, your Honor.

SRH: We'll get to the numbers a little later po. Obviously kung pinadadraft si Mr. Serafica ng plano or programa para sa sugar importation pabor ang pagtingin sa importation, hindi kontra, that's just common sense. Dr. Sebastian, ayon kay Executive Secretary sa iba't ibang news reports, "we found out about it only when my staff reported that the SRA posted the order, SO4, SRA posted the order on its website". Pero sa kanilang statement dito sa Senate, sabi nila, "on August 10, Wednesday, after the meeting in the State dining room of Malacanang, we learned that the SRA through Usec Leo Sebastian, passed a resolution approving Sugar Order No. 4....".

Sa inyo naman pong affidavit Dr, sabi nyo: "I personally informed the President that the SRA Board approved the 300,000 MT sugar importation via referendum. To my surprise, the President disapproved of my action and the Board's approval of Sugar Order No, 4 and he informed me that we should recall the order."

At this point, medyo nalilito ako. Sino ang tama? Did Malacanang really find out about the order only on the website? Or did you report it personally?

Usec: You're honor, there's a timeline there that I indicated which is 3:51, the exact time that based on my phone log that I called Administrator Serafica to report the disapproval of the President and request him to recall the publication of SO4, Your Honor.

SRH: Pero Sir, yan po yung pagbawi na pero ang tanong ko po ay parang yung tanong kanina, isa lang ang pwedeng tama. Nalaman nga lang ba talaga ng Malacanang ang SO4 sa website or kayo ba yung personally nag-ulat nito kay Presidente?

Usec: I'm not aware of the timeline that was presented by the ES your Honor, but what I know is the timeline that I took to the president after the meeting with the fertilizer companies, your Honor.

SRH: So yung unang pag-alam ni Presidente dito sa sugar order 4, ay galing sa inyo hindi sa website lang ng SRA, personally, sinabi nyo sa Presidente.

Usec: Yes Your Honor. I informed the president that we have already approved the 300,000 MT sugar importation and just like in my affidavit, I was surprised that he was not in agreement, your Honor.

SRH: By the way, tinanggap po ba yung resignation ninyo?

USec: As of now, I have been informed that I am on preventive suspension for 90 days.

SRH: So hindi pa tinanggap o hindi pa tinatanggap yung resignation ninyo?

Usec: That is correct.

SRH: Did you say preventive suspension?

Usec: That is correct.

Sen Tolentino: Can you provide the committee with a copy of your preventive suspension? As provided by civil service rules it has to be in writing.

Usec: It is contained in the charge sheet. Yes your honor.

SRH: Lastly para sa inyo, Dr. Sebastian. Alam natin na yung SO4 hindi naituloy yon, pero yung memorandum dated 15th of July yun po ba nirescind?

USec: I don't have any information on that your honor if it has been received yet.

SRH: Posibleng hindi siya nirescind at posibleng valid pa rin siya as of today, as of this morning? Icocover pa rin niya yung taong papalit sayo kung tatanggapin yung resignation ninyo?

Usec: I have no knowledge about that your honor.

SRH: If I may, Mr. Chair, former SRA Administrator Mr. Serafica, kayo po, ano po ang nagpaniwala sa inyo na si presidente at si ES ay supportive sa importation?

Serafica: During the presidential briefing in Malacanang on August 1, after presenting to the president and everyone in that meeting the challenges in the sugar industry and the recommended courses of action, in my last course of action was "prepare a draft order on another import program for SRA board approval."

In that instant, after everything was discussed, the president said to submit an importation plan.

SRH: So again, kung pinapadraft kayo ng order, kung pinapasubmit kayo ng plan tungkol sa programang importasyon, ibig sabihin, posibleng aaprubahan ito. Ibig sabihin, posibleng aaprubahan ito, ibig sa meeting, sa araw na iyon, paborable ang pagtingin, at least open, hindi opposed, tama po ba iyon?

Serafica: You are correct, your honor.

SRH: Sasabihin niyo po ba yan na pareha tungkol kay Presidente at kay ES, na at that time, parehas silang open o even pabor sa importation?

Serafica: I did not hear any objection at that point your honor.

SRH: Just to exhaust that point, may dahilan po ba kayo na maniwala na yung 300,00 MT importation - so let's talk about the numbers, let's talk about the volume - did you have reason to believe that the 300,000 MT importation was a "Go" from Malacanang o baka naman may indication na ayaw sa ganyang amount at pinilit niyo pa rin?

Serafica: At that point, your honor, there was no volume talked about.

SRH: Sabi nga ni ES nung unang hearing, as this fiasco unfolded, at any point it time did you have a go signal from Malacanang on that 300,000 MT volume?

Serafica: As I said your honor there was no volume talked about on August 1.

SRH: What about August 4?

Serafica: On August 4, it was reiterated on the importation plan. During that time, we already had figures since we had a meeting with stakeholders on July 29. When we presented the facts of the situation on the tightness of the supply and the rising prices prevailing in the market, the stakeholders were requested to submit on or before August 3 their recommendations.

SRH: Tama po ba Mr. Serafica from July 29, meeting with stakeholders hanggang deadline of submission nila noong August 3, wala sa stakeholders and nag-object sa importation, tama po ba?

Serafica: Wala po.

SRH: Did they have anything to say about the volume of the importation?

Serafica: Actually almost all of them recommended 300,000 MT volume to be imported.

SRH: So almost all of the stakeholders, former Administrator Serafica, na nameet ninyo noong July 29 - I presume nagsubmit sa inyo on or before August 3 - almost all agreed on only to the importation but also to the 300,000 MT number or volume?

Serafica: That is correct your honor.

SRH: Lastly, ano yung pinakaimportanteng facts na pinagusapan ninyo ng mga stakeholders on July 29, about supply, about price or anoman, what are the most important facts na almost all the stakeholders agreed to the importation and to the volume of 300,000 MT? Ano yung basis nito?

Serafica: When we presented the supply and demand, it was indicated in the slides, in the presentation of the regulations department during that time, and they saw the deficit, the estimated deficit, towards the end of August. Likewise - this concerns about the raw sugar, and likewise on the refined sugar - the SRA has complete data on the facts of our average demand for the last three crop years as far as raw sugar is concerned and as far as refined sugar is concerned. They realized upon seeing all of these, they recommended - almost the same - the 300,000 MT.

SRH: So in fact, tama po ba Mr. Serafica na yun lang nagdisagree sa importation of 300,000 MT was Del Max Trading and yung proposal nila was a slightly lesser amount of 250,000 MT? So near-unanimous - this fact would validate yung sinabi mo na near unanimous. So nahihiwagaan talaga ako, former administrator Serafica, what happened on the sidelines?

I would leave it at this point, saying only na talagang nahihiwagaan ako, Mr. Chair, kasi why the subterfuge, nalaman ba talaga sa website lang o sinabi personally? Why send signals na pabor sa importasyon, hindi nag-object then babawiin pala, despite the fact of this near unanimity among stakeholders based doon sa sinasabi ni Mr. Serafica na facts from the SRA, yung average demand natin in the last three crop years, yung projection nila na estimated deficit by end of this month - bukas, Mr. Chair - both in raw and refined sugar? At siguro ano yung magiging shortfall, hence possibly, we will establish that during this hearing, kaya yung 300,000 MT. I will suspend now my interpellation. Thank you Mr. Chair.

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