Loose ends

THERE are several loose ends in the sudden decision of the Senate blue ribbon committee to end its inquiry into the sugar importation mess. Its committee report — released last September 8, with 14 of the 17 members signing the report and a dissenting vote from Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel 3rd — recommended the filing of anti-graft, anti-agricultural smuggling charges and a count of usurpation, against the four individuals who signed the questionable SRO 4. The sudden reversal of what appeared to be a mess left some critical loose ends: delegated authority issued by the executive secretary last July 15, 2022, the demurrage, the status of Agriculture undersecretary/chief of staff Leocadio Sebastian.

 

THERE are several loose ends in the sudden decision of the Senate blue ribbon committee to end its inquiry into the sugar importation mess. Its committee report — released last September 8, with 14 of the 17 members signing the report and a dissenting vote from Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel 3rd — recommended the filing of anti-graft, anti-agricultural smuggling charges and a count of usurpation, against the four individuals who signed the questionable SRO 4. The sudden reversal of what appeared to be a mess left some critical loose ends: delegated authority issued by the executive secretary last July 15, 2022, the demurrage, the status of Agriculture undersecretary/chief of staff Leocadio Sebastian.

From "illegal" to "heads will roll" and "the executive secretary has nothing to do with it," unintended consequences resulted in further aggravating the acts with what appears to be diversions created to muddle and hide what transpired. Was there a crime? If the SRO 4 was taken down from the website and withdrawn by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) from the Office of the National Administrative Register, what crime took place? If the signing for and on behalf of the chairman of the SRA board and the secretary of Agriculture was done, was it not in accordance with the delegated authority given by the executive secretary in his memo dated July 15? Why was the delegation not even discussed by the blue-ribbon committee? Is the committee not alarmed by it? Who pays for the demurrage of a wrongful act by the executive secretary and the acting commissioner of the Bureau of Customs (BoC) in the case of the Subic "visit"? What becomes of Undersecretary Sebastian who sent a letter of intent to resign but was not acted swiftly unlike that of the other three members of the board and is now subject to preventive suspension?

The executive secretary claimed there was no importation plan. The fact is there was (Resolution 2022-105) and it was submitted as attachment to the SRO 4. Undersecretary Sebastian kept asking the executive secretary about the decision of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to which he never replied. There was supposed to be a hybrid meeting with President Marcos where the 600,000 metric tons importation was discussed but this was denied by the executive secretary, and he was not even sure if there was a hybrid meeting. The information on the 600,000 MT is a new development which was readily set aside by the committee in a public hearing. Why?

The Senate blue ribbon was becoming serious about the sugar importation mess due to a 11-3-3 secret balloting on the issuance of a subpoena to the executive secretary. The subpoena was made on the eve of September 6 to require his attendance at the probe. The executive secretary was a no-show twice with a Cainta-notarized letter dated September 5 informing the Senate, "per instructions of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. I will not be able to attend the hearings of the abovementioned committees." The executive secretary further stated, "I would like to reiterate that the undersigned is willing to answer written inquiries directly related to the unauthorized issuance of Sugar Order 4." So, why did he suddenly show up?

The subpoena became water under the bridge when the drama rolled out as the dramatis personae came in. The Cainta-notarized letter used the President as an excuse. According to the letter, the President "asked him not to attend." And the Senate accepted it without much debate. Two things came out of that show: there was talk of a 600,000 MT of sugar importation discussed in a hybrid (face-to-face and online) meeting, with the President himself being present.

The sugar importation is a convoluted mess because of the delegated authority made by the executive secretary to Undersecretary Sebastian who resigned on Aug. 12, 2022 (the resignation was never accepted). The resignation letter of Undersecretary Sebastian was in fact released by the Press secretary. Then on Aug. 18, 2022 per Case MP-DC-2022-0001, Undersecretary Sebastian was slapped with a preventive suspension. Sebastian considered himself resigned already even before the preventive suspension was signed. Talk about transparency and accountability gone haywire. And yet another delegated authority has been allegedly made to CAAP DDG, Capt. Manuel Antonio Tamayo and MIAA Acting General Manager Cesar Chiong.

The sugar fiasco saw the raids in certain warehouses under the visitorial powers of the BoC. We have not seen cases filed on hoarding or smuggling. What we saw are eggs on the face of Customs official Yogi Ruiz, in the case of the Subic "smuggling." The facts were clearly contained in the press statement of Ruiz issued last September 1 on C-12513 and C-125521, where he had to put in the freezer BoC officers of the port of Subic on August 22 and absolved the same on August 31. What gives? Are government officials that all-powerful as to play with the lives of their subordinates just to suit their narratives?

While the so-called tip or intel report given to the executive secretary was clearly a dud, the importers ARC Refreshments Corp. and Zest-O Corp. had to wait for the final release of their importations. The storyline had to be rewritten to fit again the narrative that the executive secretary wants to go after smuggling. And because of the somersaults to fit the narrative, demurrage had to be paid. Who pays for it? The importer? Customs? Executive secretary, the President? This is a question that the Senate blue ribbon should have investigated. If government will pay for the stupid acts in the Subic "smuggling" case, that's taxpayers' money and someone erred, bigtime. Why was there no mention of it? Isn't that a potential graft case?

What is demurrage? Demurrage is a "charge payable to the owner of a chartered ship in respect of failure to load or discharge the ship within the time agreed upon." The Customs Modernization and Tariff Act Section 1111, par (e) states, "the cost of the physical inspection shall be borne by the bureau." How much is the total cost?

The demurrage charge is $5,000/day. In the case of Subic, the vessel arrived on August 17. The release of the sugar was held/suspended on August 18. The order to continue processing by Ruiz was signed only on September 2 and was received by Subic BoC officers September 5. The delay, illegally caused by Acting Customs Commissioner Yogi Ruiz, started from August 18 to September 5, or a total of 19 days. Demurrage will cost the BoC $19,000, at the present forex rate, that comes to $5.4 million per ship.

The proximate cause of the mess is the delegated authority, plain and simple, and look at the wastage of such stunts. From it springs forth a situation where "man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss."

Link: https://www.manilatimes.net/2022/09/13/opinion/columns/loose-ends/1858275

 

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