DA exec faces graft complaint over sugar importation mess

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 5) – Two groups on Monday filed a graft complaint against Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban before the Office of the Ombudsman. Panganiban is accused of allowing last February the importation of sugar ahead of the effectivity of the Sugar Regulatory Administration's order.

National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry-Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries' (NACUSIP-ARB) Council and the Alternatiba Party-list said they were seeking to indict Panganiban for the usurpation of official functions or violating Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code and Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

They also cited a provision of the RA 3019 which states the corrupt practice of "causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence."

"Respondent Panganiban acted under the pretense of official position when he used his position as the Senior Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture to direct the 3 importers to import sugar without the necessary Sugar Order as early as January 2023," the complaint read.

"He used his senior position in the Department of Agriculture to undermine and usurp the function of the SRA board," it added.

"We cannot let this pass," said Roland de la Cruz, Board of Director of NACUSIP-ARB Council.

Elijah San Fernando, secretary general of Alternatiba Party-list, also said it is "deeply troublesome" for a government agency to be seemingly "in cahoots with smuggling syndicates…depriving sugar farmers and workers [of] their source of livelihood."

Sen. Risa Hontiveros alleged that the government may have participated in the "government-sponsored smuggling" after a shipment of sugar in 260 20-foot containers arrived in the country nine days ahead of the effectivity of Sugar Order No. 6.

The order, which became effective on Feb. 18, allowed the importation of 440,000 metric tons of the commodity, on which Panganiban was one of the signatories.

Only All Asian Countertrade Inc., Sucden Philippines, and Edison Lee Marketing Corp. were granted the authority to cover the importation. Hontiveros previously said all containers that arrived in Batangas port were reportedly imported by All Asian Countertrade Inc.

In a hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, Panganiban said it was President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., concurrently the Agriculture secretary, who initiated the importation of hundreds of metric tons of sugar from Thailand and ordered that it will be "through selected importers."

READ: Marcos ordered to get sugar 'through selected importers' DA senior official

The groups mentioned in their complaint the statement made by Panganiban on a Feb. 22 briefing, where he said he presumed that a memorandum issued to him by the Office of the Executive Secretary was a sign to proceed with the importation.

"In response to the directive of the President, to address inflation and create a buffer stock, and given that sugar is one of the component of most commodities that drive the consistently high inflation rate, I acted with haste and interpreted the memorandum issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary as an approval to proceed with the importation," Panganiban previously said.

CNN Philippines has sought the comment of Panganiban regarding the complaint.