In a public hearing by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on May 23, Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban backpedaled six times on claims regarding President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s directive early this year to import sugar.
During the hearing, Panganiban went from first quoting Marcos as saying, “Let’s do it ourselves muna (first),” referring to his order to buy sugar from abroad because of a shortage, in a meeting of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to claiming that the president only said, “Let’s import.”
The undersecretary also backtracked on his statement that Marcos, who is concurrently Agriculture secretary, specifically ordered the importation of sugar through selected importers only.
When narrating what transpired during the meeting, Panganiban initially claimed:
“We called a meeting with the Sugar Regulatory Administration and raised all these problems with them. Ang sabi ng presidente ‘Let’s do it ourselves muna’ (The president said ‘Let’s do it ourselves first.’). And so, two days after, they called again a meeting with me and several sugar importers and he told the same thing and told us that we need really to import at this point because baka tumaas pa ang inflation rate and tataas pa ang presyo ng sugar sa public market (the inflation rate may rise and the price of sugar in public markets may also increase). And so after one hour of deliberations, the president said: ‘Let’s import. Tell the public that we should be importing.’”
Source: Senate of the Philippines, Blue Ribbon Committee (May 23, 2023), May 23, 2023, watch from 1:28:54 to 1:29:51
However, when asked by Sen. Risa Hontiveros to clarify what exactly was the order from Marcos regarding the importation of 440,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar through Sugar Order No. 6, Panganiban said:
“Hindi sinabi ng presidente ‘yung ‘Let’s do it ourselves’… Ang sinabi niya ‘Let’s import.’” (The president didn’t say ‘Let’s do it ourselves’… What he said was ‘Let’s import.’)
Source: Senate of the Philippines, Blue Ribbon Committee (May 23, 2023), May 23, 2023, watch from 1:30:19 to 1:30:23
Sen. Koko Pimentel called out Panganiban’s change of tune and asked him to recall the president’s exact order. Panganiban acknowledged that he did mention that Marcos said “Let’s do it ourselves.”
However, just over five minutes later, Panganiban again retracted his statement, saying:
“Hindi po sinabi ng presidente na ‘Let’s do it ourselves’. Ako po ang nagsabi no’ng ‘Let’s do it ourselves.’ Ang sinabi po ng presidente ‘Let’s import.’” (The president did not say ‘Let’s do it ourselves.’ I was the one who said ‘Let’s do it ourselves’. The president said ‘Let’s import.’)
Source: Senate of the Philippines, Blue Ribbon Committee (May 23, 2023), May 23, 2023, watch from 1:40:40 to 1:40:47
When asked by Sen. Francis Tolentino if the “let’s import” directive meant it would have to be done through the usual process, Panganiban said:
“No, he said ‘Let’s import through selected importers of sugar’.”
Source: Senate of the Philippines, Blue Ribbon Committee (May 23, 2023), May 23, 2023, watch from 1:30:36 to 1:30:41
Panganiban also backtracked on this statement 13 minutes later when asked by Pimentel to confirm that Marcos ordered importation through selected sugar importers. He replied:
“Ang sinabi lang ng presidente ‘Let’s import,’ eh.” (The president only said ‘Let’s import.’)
Source: Senate of the Philippines, Blue Ribbon Committee (May 23, 2023), May 23, 2023, watch from 1:43:52 to 1:43:54
On Feb. 21, Hontiveros urged the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to investigate the Feb. 9 arrival of 260 20-foot containers of sugar from Thailand.
During a press briefing, the opposition senator had revealed documents showing that three importers were given the go-signal to bring in 450,000 MT of sugar without an importation order from the SRA.
Sugar Order No. 6, which allowed the importation of 440,000 MT of refined sugar, was made public only on Feb. 15 without the signature of Marcos.
Panganiban later admitted that it was he who handpicked the three sugar importers, following a memorandum from Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.
On March 1, the DA released a Feb. 27 memorandum directing SRA Administrator David Alba to clear the release of the importation under Sugar Order No. 6. This, according to Hontiveros, is “smoking gun” proof that high-ranking officials are behind the country’s latest sugar import fiasco.
The May 23 inquiry was the second Senate investigation on alleged irregularities in the SRA’s import procedures under the Marcos administration. In 2022, a Senate probe was conducted to look into an unauthorized order for the importation of 300,000 MT of sugar by the SRA.
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Senate of the Philippines, Blue Ribbon Committee (May 23, 2023), May 23, 2023
Senate of the Philippines, Press Briefing with Sen. Risa Hontiveros | February 21, 2023, Feb. 21, 2023
Sugar Regulatory Administration, Sugar Order No. 6, Feb. 15, 2023
RTVMalacanang, PCO Press Briefing with DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban 2/22/2023, Feb. 22, 2023
DA clears the release of imported sugar
- ABS-CBN News, DA clears 3 ‘handpicked’ importers to release imported sugar, March 1, 2023
- GMA News, DA issues clearance for release of flagged imported sugar, March 2, 2023
- Inquirer.net, SRA gets go-ahead to clear release of sugar imports, March 1, 2023
Senate of the Philippines, Hontiveros: Panganiban memo “smoking gun” proof of gov’t hand in sugar smuggling fiasco, March 1, 2023
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