MANILA – Former Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian on Monday cited the "rapidly diminishing supply" of sugar as reason for signing the controversial Sugar Order No. 4 that would allow the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar without the authorization of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

During the joint briefing conducted by the House committee on good government and public accountability and the committee on agriculture and food on Monday, Sebastian said the current supply is projected to run out in August, or the end of crop year 2021-2022.

Citing data from the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), Philippine Statistics Authority, and the National Economic and Development Authority, Sebastian said the average annual supply shortage of sugar is about 530,000 metric tons, comprised of an average annual deficit of 203,000 metric tons for raw sugar and 332,000 metric tons for refined sugar.

Sebastian took responsibility for the unauthorized issuance of the sugar importation order, saying that it was signed on the basis of data presented by the Department of Agriculture and SRA.

"I signed the document based on the data presented to me... by the SRA. There is a clear indication of a rapidly diminishing supply of sugar,” Sebastian said.

He said the total annual deficit is attributable to low farm productivity, small farm sizes and low sugar milling efficiency, as well as high prices of fertilizer, among others.

On Wednesday, the Palace announced that Marcos junked the proposal to import 300,000 MT of sugar following reports that claimed that the President has allowed the importation through an order he supposedly signed.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles denied the authenticity of the order, adding that the unauthorized signing of the order on behalf of Marcos is under investigation.

Sebastian has resigned from his post at the DA after admitting that the President did not give his authorization for the issuance of the order.

"I cannot stand watching Filipinos suffer from high local prices of sugar that are hurting Filipino consumers," Sebastian said during the hearing. "I immediately resigned when I knew the president disapproved my action. It has been clear that my actions were not in keeping with the administration's desired direction for the sugar industry."

In his weekly vlog uploaded on Sunday night, Marcos acknowledged that there may be a need to import sugar to stabilize domestic prices of the commodity but noted that the Philippines may only need 150,000 metric tons, half of the 300,000 MT earlier proposed by the SRA.

Marcos said the government may import up to 150,000 MT of sugar if the supply is depleted by October.

“Maari bandang Oktubre, baka 'yung supply na nandito sa Pilipinas ay pa-ubos na. Baka sakali ay kailangan natin mag-import pero kakaunti lang. Hindi kasing dami ng kanilang sinasabi dati na 300,000 [metric] tons. Eh siguro malaki na ‘yung 150,000 [metric] tons para sa buong taon na ito (There is a possibility that by October, our supply in the Philippines will be depleted. We might need to import, but only a few, not as much as the [metric] 300,000 tons they said before. Perhaps 150,000 [metric] tons would be good for the entire year),” he said.

Marcos, the concurrent Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and SRA chairperson maintained there is no sugar supply shortage.

He also stressed the need to cut down imports to the barest minimum, noting that more imports would cause a struggle for Filipino farmers. (PNA)