SENATOR Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros-Baraquel has called for the preventive suspension of a Department of Agriculture (DA) official while an investigation is conducted on his supposed role in facilitating the activities of sugar cartels in the country.
“DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban should be investigated and placed on preventive suspension because of his continued assistance in building a powerful sugar cartel, which they are so proud of today,” she said in Filipino in a statement on Tuesday.
“That he is not under suspension and investigation only means one thing: his superiors see nothing wrong with him openly violating existing laws and usurping the powers and mandate of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA),” she added.
Mr. Panganiban could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.
The DA official last week denied allegations made by the senator, saying that the release of the imported sugar was already cleared.
“It already has clearance, it’s done. The clearance has already been given by the Sugar Regulatory Administration,” he said in Filipino.
“It will be released within the next two weeks. This is the sugar that will lower the price of commercial sugar in the Philippines. It will be P80 to P84 per kilogram,” he added.
The imported sugar — which Ms. Hontiveros calls “government-sponsored” smuggling — of almost 450 metric tons arrived in the country on Feb. 9, way before March 1, the earliest date legally imported sugar could reach Philippine ports.
“Where does Usec. borrow his courage from, to say that this matter should be left alone? Do they have the blessing of Malacañang to tell people who are calling for obedience to the law to keep quiet?” Ms. Hontiveros said.
“Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, who is a former Supreme Court Chief Justice, should explain to the whole country why Panganiban is not being investigated and why Malacañang has not reversed or dismissed the questionable and illegal DA orders,” she added.
The senator noted that sugar stakeholders have already committed to pursue criminal cases in relation to the sugar importation.
“I hope they are ready for the cases they will face,” she said. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan