After Senate Subpoena, Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez Finally Attends Sugar Probe
On the third hearing of the sugar import mess, Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez appeared before the Senate blue ribbon committee after the panel subpoenaed him to attend the September 6 probe.
Rodriguez had appeared in the first hearing but left early because of a Cabinet meeting. Meanwhile, he was absent from the second one for the same reason. President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. originally would then order Rodriguez to snub the hearings. Rodriguez would accept written inquiries instead. But once Rodriguez had learned about the Senate subpoena, Marcos ended up directing Rodriguez to attend.
"I would like to sincerely apologize if we have to resort to the issuance of a subpoena to compel my presence today. I have no intention whatsoever to disrespect the honorable members of the Senate and the Senate as an institution," Rodriguez explained to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. "And that’s why I learned when a subpoena was issued, I don’t want to, but I have to inform His Excellency [President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.] even if he is on his state visit."
The hearing on Sugar Order No. 4, which has led to the resignation and suspension of some senior Department of Agriculture (DA) and Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) officials, continues.
According to earlier reports, the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar was supposed to mitigate the sugar shortage in the country. We may recall that the alleged approval of the importation of the said order was posted on the SRA website a few weeks ago. Former Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian signed the "illegal" importation document on Marcos' behalf.
The Palace, however, claimed that the president had rejected the proposed importation. The order has since been deleted, and here we are.
Last week's hearing called on Sebastian and former SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica to appear before the Senate. Senator Risa Hontiveros had asked both men if Marcos and Rodriguez supported the proposed importation, to which they said that they got "no objections."
“There were no objections to the importation program, Your Honor. I did not hear any objection or any reservation,” Sebastian claimed. He also said that he had even informed the President that they had the importation approved.
The SRA falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, which Marcos currently heads in a a concurrent capacity. Marcos also allegedly directed Serafica to start working on a sugar importation program.
After Rodriguez's appearance, Senator Risa Hontiveros said it was "concerning" that the president would order the Executive Secretary to pull out from the hearing. Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, on the other hand, stressed that the “image” of the Senate was on the line.
“I am concerned about the image of the Senate Blue Ribbon, I want it strengthened, I want it to have a very good reputation as part of its strength, because a very strong Blue Ribbon also means a strong Senate as an institution,” Pimentel said. "...Huwag tayong kumagat na si ES [Rodriguez] na ang nagsusulat ng script natin.”
The next committee hearing will be on Thursday, September 8, with Rodriguez expected to attend through the subpoena. Marcos is currently in Indonesia for a state visit.