Duterte’s plan to abolish SRA worries sugar industry leaders
BACOLOD CITY — Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Sunday said he was under the impression that President Rodrigo Duterte was just floating an idea on the abolition of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).
“It was not really a definitive pronouncement,” Piñol said.
The President he said he would want to abolish three government agencies, including the SRA and the Road Board, in a speech he gave on Saturday at the Mindanao Business Conference and Expo in Cagayan de Oro City. His aim was to streamline government and curb corruption.
He cited the SRA’s hiring of consultants, each of whom was being paid P200,000 a month, higher than the President’s salary.
Last Thursday, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said SRA Administrator Anna Rosario Paner had already resigned.
Pinol and Zubiri, along with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, recommended as replacement Sugar Board member Hermenegildo Serafica of Ormoc, Leyte.
Duterte’s announcement of his intention to abolish the SRA came as a surprise to the sugar industry, which had already been a a multitude of problems, according to its leaders.
But Piñol said the President might just floating the idea of abolishing the SRA and the Road Board.
“I think he was just floating and idea,” he said. “It was not really a definitive pronouncement, because he was offended by indiscriminate use of the money of the sugar industry.”
“He values so much government resources,” Piñol added. “It would be improper for me to even question the presidential statement.”
But added that he would brief the President on how the SRA abolition would affect the sugar industry.
“I think knowing the President even if he has made that pronouncement it was just an idea that he tried to float,” he said. “He will always ask people around. That’s how he is.”
Piñol said he planned to go to Negros Occidental on Oct. 28 to meet with sugar industry stakeholders to ask whether they though the SRA was serving the needs of sugar planters or merely working for the big interest groups.
“Is it really an agency that would ensure the survival of the industry? These things will have to be answered during the consultations,” he said.
The product of the consultations will be submitted to Duterte so he could get a better idea of the situation.
Piñol said the theme of the sugar industry consultation would be how to adjust to the realities of the times.
“We will ask the stakeholders what can be done outside of just producing sugar,” he said, pointing out that allied industries must be explored.
He also cited the need for mechanization to lower cost of production of sugar and other agricultural products.
For his part, Zubiri said he would lobby for the retention of the SRA.
“I just have to find out the facts first on why he [President Duterte] is singling out SRA in the first place,” Zubiri said. “Maybe all that is needed are safeguards so abuses are not committed.”
Negros Occidental Gov. Rafael Coscolluela, a former chief of the SRA, was also worried about Duterte’s statement.
“The President’s statement regarding SRA’s abolition will create a lot of uncertainty,” Cosculluela said. “Until things clear up, we won’t know what kind of policy environment we will have to deal with. That’s not a good way to start the new milling season.”
The outright abolition of SRA at this time, he said, would be too drastic and untimely.
“The alleged corruption can be addressed in other ways,” he added.
Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, said, SRA had proven itself as a government agency protecting the interests of consumers and promoting the welfare of sugar producers.
“If the President is not satisfied with the performance of the immediate past administrator, it is not the fault of the entire agency,” Rojas said. “We suggest that, if the SRA leadership has committed any wrongdoing, the President should let the axe fall where it may, but he should spare the whole organization.”
There are many sincere and capable persons within the sugar industry who can lead SRA. Perhaps a change in leadership can address the President’s apprehensions, he added.
“We hope that the President will reconsider his statement and allow SRA to continue, particularly now that the sugar industry is facing a multitude of problems,” Rojas said.
Manuel Lamata, president of the United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines, said he was praying that the President would reconsider his decision to abolish the SRA.
He should change the wrongdoers but not scrap the whole institution, Lamata said. /atm