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Hontiveros slams Panganiban’s appointment as SRA OIC

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday slammed the appointment of Department of Agriculture (DA) Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban as officer-in-charge of the Sugar Regulatory Administration amid his supposed involvement in the alleged “state-sponsored” sugar smuggling.

“Panganiban’s appointment is the epitome of impunity," said Hontiveros when asked to react to Panganiban’s appointment.

"What sort of message do we hope to send here to our fellow government employees, to our farmers, to our consumers by rewarding corruption instead of punishing it?” she added.

 “In any other government, Panganiban would already be suspended and the subject of multiple criminal and administrative investigations for his issuances which openly violate existing laws and enable the formation of a government sponsored sugar cartel in the country.”

Hontiveros said the DA official has been provided by Malacañang with a “plum new post” instead of demotions or criminal and administrative charges which is a “stark contrast” to their treatment of another DA official who resigned from his post after being tagged in the previous controversy surrounding Sugar Order No. 4.

"I fear that the SRA, under Panganiban, will continue to deny requests by industries to procure their own sugar supplies and justify the high prices of sugar being forced on consumers and businesses alike,” she said.

GMA News Online has reached out to DA spokesperson Rex Estoperez and Malacañang for their comment but they have yet to reply as of posting time. 

Hontiveros earlier filed a proposed Senate Resolution 497 seeking a probe into the alleged irregular sugar importation last February 9 involving 260 20-foot containers of sugar from Thailand.

She said Panganiban — who represented President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the Sugar Regulatory Administration Board — had a January 12 letter addressed to one of the alleged sugar importers of the questioned importation, saying the allocation was “per instruction of Executive Secretary [Lucas] Bersamin.”

Interpreting the memorandum issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary as an approval to proceed with the importation, Panganiban said he instructed “three capable and accredited companies to proceed with the importation of sugar provided that they agree to reduce the prices of sugar.”

On March 2, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has given its go-signal for the release of the imported sugar that was flagged by Hontiveros as not covered by earlier sugar orders.

Hontiveros also questioned Panganiban’s “favored sugar importers, whom, she said, may gain billions from sugar importation.

This is not the first time that the Senate blue ribbon committee has been asked to investigate an issue related to sugar importation.

In August last year, the committee investigated the alleged unauthorized issuance of Sugar Order No. 4, which would have allowed the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar.

The Senate blue ribbon committee recommended the filing of administrative and criminal charges against an Agriculture official and three former Sugar Regulatory Administration officials over the controversial SO No. 4. —VAL, GMA Integrated News