Senator Francis Tolentino, chairperson of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee (Photo courtesy of Senate PRIB)

MANILA – The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee recommended on Thursday the filing of administrative cases against Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, former Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) chief Hermenegildo Serafica, SRA Board Member Roland Beltran, and SRA Board Member Aurelio Valderrama Jr.

The committee, chaired by Senator Francis Tolentino, said in its 75-page committee report the preliminary evidence on record indicated that the officials have committed the administrative offense of serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and gross insubordination under the revised rules on administrative cases in the civil service.

For criminal cases, the blue ribbon panel recommended that Sebastian, Serafica, Beltran, and Valderrama be charged with one count of a violation of Section 3a of Republic Act (RA) 3019 otherwise known as the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act; one count for a violation of Section 3e of the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act; one count of a violation on the provision of RA 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016; and one count of usurpation functions defined and penalized under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code.

Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez, a resource person in the Blue Ribbon inquiry, thanked the panel members for their swift action in the unauthorized issuance of Sugar Order 4 (SO 4) and moving for the filing of charges against those responsible for the illegal act.

“We thank the Blue Ribbon Committee members for their swift investigation which left no stone unturned. Rest assured that the committee recommendations will be taken to heart by the concerned agencies under the DA,” Rodriguez said.

The inquiry was triggered by the privilege speech of Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri regarding SO 4, which was described by Malacanang as illegal as it was not approved by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as chair of the Sugar Board sitting as the DA Secretary.

Tolentino terminated the proceedings on Tuesday after three hearings as suggested by Zubiri.

The report was signed by 14 out of 17 members of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee with one dissenting opinion that was read by General Counsel Gerard Mosquera during Thursday's hearing of the same committee on the alleged overpriced laptops procured by the Department of Education.

"The committee secretary is directed to transmit the committee report to the appropriate government agencies for the filing of the proper cases relative to the committee report," Tolentino said, referring to the Department of Justice, the Commission on Audit, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Bureau of Immigration, which was directed to include the names of the accused in the immigration lookout bulletin.

The committee also recommended amending relevant legislation such as Executive Order (EO) 18, RA 10659 or An Act Promoting and Supporting the Competitiveness of the Sugarcane Industry, and other related laws to inject transparency and accountability in the process of issuing import permits and other critical issuances.

The recommendation to amend EO 18, the committee report said, aims to expand the SRA Board to eight members with the Secretary of the DA continuing to act as ex-officio chairperson and the addition of sectors represented such as additional board members to represent the consumers both industrial and household, sugar industry workers, sugar transportation sector workers, and other stakeholders in the success of the sugar industry.

It shall also prohibit the delegation of the authority of the SRA Board to reclassify sugar.

The committee also seeks to review and rationalize the sugar importation policy of the government with full funding for RA 10659.

The SRA is required to prepare a sugar importation plan with appropriate safeguards subject to the review of higher authority.

Tolentino told Senate reporters that the committee report will be presented in plenary on Monday. (PNA)