EDITORIAL - Waiting for sugar, at affordable cost

The Philippine Star

The country has too few scientists, and it is sad to see one falling in ignominy. Agriculture scientist Leocadio Sebastian joined the Department of Agriculture with sterling credentials. On Friday night, he resigned as DA undersecretary for operations and chief of staff to the head of the department, President Marcos.

Sebastian quit as he took full responsibility for an order of the Sugar Regulatory Board, ostensibly on the President’s behalf, for the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar. This was supposedly in line with efforts to stabilize supply and bring down the soaring prices of the commodity.

There was only one problem: Malacañang said the President did not authorize Sebastian to sign on his behalf in the sugar board, and was not in favor of the sugar importation. Sebastian’s resignation, Malacañang stressed, would not stop an investigation into possible criminal liability and allegations of agricultural smuggling through the abuse of DA import permits.

In Sebastian’s letter of resignation, which included profuse apologies to the President, the former executive director of the Philippine Rice Research Institute at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna, who has a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics from Cornell University in New York, said he thought he had been authorized to act on the President’s behalf in the sugar board.

President Marcos, according to reports, had designated Sebastian as his alternate on the board of the Sugar Regulatory Administration. Sugar Order No. 4, which was initially uploaded on the DA website, bore the signature of President Marcos, but Malacañang said the signature was not his.

Authorization is one thing; faking the signature of the president of the republic is another, and a criminal offense. It’s a dismaying fall for the former regional program leader of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security in Southeast Asia as well as Asia-Pacific regional director at Biodiversity International.

Domestic sugar industry players have said the sugar shortage is artificial and have asked the Sugar Regulatory Administration to conduct a proper inventory of the commodity nationwide. The domestic producers say the SRA has been favoring industrial users in supply allocation, to the detriment of micro consumers. Households and enterprises such as mom-and-pop bakeries are bearing the brunt of prices that have surged up to P120 per kilo for refined sugar – double the price from last year.

DA officials had previously said the country’s projected sugar production of 1.8 million MT would be 200,000 MT short of the average annual demand in the past three years. All that the public wants is to see stable supply and prices of sugar – and accountability for this mess.


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