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Court finds ex-SRA chief guilty of indirect contempt

BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN

Former Sugar Regulatory Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica was found guilty of indirect contempt by Himamaylan Regional Trial Court Branch 55 Judge Walter Zorilla for the issuance of SRA Memorandum Circular No. 11, series of 2021-2022, in violation of the writ of preliminary injunction he had issued.

Zorilla, in an 11- page decision dated September 26, sentenced Serafica to suffer the straight penalty of imprisonment for 15 days and to pay the fine of P30,000.

Accordingly, let a warrant of arrest be issued against Hermenegildo Serafica for the service of the imprisonment imposed upon him, Zorilla said.

Court records show that Serafica, then administrator of SRA, issued Memorandum Circular No. 11, series of 2021-2022, with the subject “Resumption of Implementation of Sugar Order No. 3” that allows importation of 200,000 metric tons of standard grade refined sugar and bottler’s grade refined sugar, on May 4, 2022, despite issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction by the Himamaylan RTC on March 2, 2022.

Serafica, in his explanation, through the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC), said he did not disobey, resist or otherwise violate the courts WPI order, and he acted in good faith when SRA issued MC 11, since SRA merely relied on his counsel’s advice.

MC 11 expressly excluded Region 6, the judicial region where this court belongs, from its coverage. Serafica said, pointing out that issuance of MC 11 cannot be deemed an act of disobedience of, or resistance to, or otherwise, a violation of the WPI order.

Zorilla, in his ruling, said that Serafica’s justification that the preliminary injunction can be enforced only within the 6th Judicial Region, where this court belongs, is utterly misplaced. Clearly, there is absolutely nothing in the preliminary injunction that enjoined in the implementation of Sugar Order N0. 3 “only in the 6th Judicial Region,” he stressed.

In fact, Serafica fully knew that based in the disquisition in the issuance of the preliminary injunction, this court upheld the contention of the intervenors that “they have unmistakable rights, either as sugarcane farmers or sugar producers to be protected of the profitability and viability of their livelihood under EO 18 and SIA. They successfully impressed to the court that this right is being threatened and/or violated under the Sugar Import Program of SRA embodied in SO3”, the judge said.

Enrique Tayo acted as the petitioner, representing the Negros Occidental Federation of Farmers Association.

As Administrator of SRA, Serafica knows that even if the processing of the importation of refined sugar, or the actual the delivery thereof is done outside the territorial jurisdiction of the 6th Judicial Region, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will not have an effect on the profitability and viability of the livelihood of the petitioners and intervenors, court records showed.

It is s noteworthy that during the hearing of indirect contempt against Serafica, no less than the counsel for SRA – Atty. Ronald Rimando – clarified that the effect of the importation, pursuant to MC 11 is on the “entire country,” it added.

There is no doubt that the contemptuous act of Serafica in issuing MC 11, and in allowing the implementation of Sugar Order No. 3, despite the existence of a writ of preliminary injunction, during the pendency of a special civil action for declaratory relief, put this court into utter disrepute and disrespect, Zorilla said his order.

This cannot be condoned, much less left unpunished, he stressed.*

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