Acting SRA chief on graft complaint vs. Panganiban: ‘I don’t see where the graft is’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 6) — A top official of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) defended Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban who is facing graft complaints over his alleged involvement in the sugar import controversy in February.

“I don’t see where the graft is,” SRA Acting Administrator Pablo Azcona said on Tuesday. “Personally, I’m sure he can defend it; and it was already defended in the Senate hearings. We’ve heard the opinion of very good and intelligent lawyers.”

“If you ask the farmers, [they] are very happy. It’s the first time in a long time that an administration was concerned about the farmgate price,” he added.

In a complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman, the National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines - Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (NACUSIP-ARB) Council and the Alternatiba Party-List sought charges against Panganiban for usurping authority as well as violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The case stemmed from Panganiban allegedly allowing the importation of sugar through the company All Asian Countertrade even without an official order.

READ: DA exec faces graft complaint over sugar importation mess

“Sugar farmers and workers in the sugar industry have been gravely affected by the sudden influx of imported sugar in the market," Roland de La Cruz of the NACUSIP-ARB Council said. "This is aggravated by the fact that what entered our country is smuggled sugar -- seemingly facilitated by none other than a senior official of the Department of Agriculture."

Azcona, meanwhile, said he consulted Panganiban for yet another plan to import 150,000 metric tons of refined sugar "well before the case was filed."

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. previously approved the additional importation of sugar to “stabilize” prices.

The latest sugar imports came from the controversial Sugar Order No. 6 that took effect on Feb. 16, allowing the importation of 440,000 MT of the commodity.

“The graft case actually came as a surprise. So, it’s another obstacle that the Senior Undersecretary has to face. Hopefully, we will hurdle over it,” he said