Senate minority: Rodriguez 'not blameless' in sugar mess but no raps recommended

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — In its separate report on the Senate Blue Ribbon committee’s investigation into an unauthorized sugar importation order, the chamber’s two-member minority bloc cleared key personalities involved in the fiasco from any administrative and criminal charges, including Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez whom they said is "not entirely blameless."

While the minority bloc, composed of Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III and Sen. Risa Hontiveros, found Rodriguez to be partly at fault for the botched sugar importation — mainly due to his admitted refusal to reply to queries by former Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian — it did not recommend any charges against him.

"We will not recommend charges against the executive secretary," Pimentel told a news briefing partly in Filipino. “Actually, my staff and I discussed if there are violations of any criminal provisions. I said, 'Let’s not look for any.' Let this just be on their conscience."

Hontiveros said they are leaving the filing of any charges against Rodriguez over the sugar mess to law enforcement, but stressed that he should be accountable "at least on the moral level."

The minority’s report counters the findings of the Blue Ribbon panel in its report signed by 14 of its 17 members, which recommended the filing of administrative and criminal charges, including graft and smuggling raps, against former Agriculture Undersecretary Sebastian, former Sugar Regulatory Administration administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, and SRA board members Roland Beltran and Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama Jr.

Pimentel and Hontiveros said in their report that Sebastian, Serafica, Beltran and Valderrama acted in good faith and that the charges recommended against them by a majority of the senators lacked factual and legal basis.

The two senators dismissed the recommended graft charges against the four as "mere surmise or conjecture" as there was no evidence which would point to who benefited or stood to benefit from the issuance of the controversial Sugar Order No. 4.

The order would have allowed the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar had it not been struck down by Malacañang for supposedly lacking the approval of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who also holds the agriculture portfolio.

The minority also rejected the recommended smuggling raps against Sebastian, Serafica, Beltran and Valderrama as "it is doubtful if any import permit has already been issued" due to SO No. 4.

"To be liable for this offense, there must have been an import permit issued which was sold, lent, leased, or assigned to another person," read the minority’s report.

The bloc also hit the majority’s recommendation to place the four officials in the immigration lookout bulletin, saying "there does not appear to be any reason to impair the[ir] right to travel."

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