BACOLOD CITY–The House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture’s technical working group (TWG) is looking into the alleged slow implementation of the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) programs of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) that has affected industry stakeholders.
During the blended meeting with other solons, sugar industry stakeholders, and SRA officials at Talisay City, Negros Occidental, on Thursday, TWG chair Negros Occidental Rep. Jose Francisco Benitez (3rd district), said the implementation of SIDA programs, save for the hard infrastructure program, has been “slow – and with limited impact.”
This, despite the passage of RA 10659, otherwise known as the Sugarcane Industry Development Act, which aims to increase production efficiency in sugarcane farms and sugar mills through research and technological innovation, infrastructure, and human resource development, Benitez said.
The meeting was undertaken to devise solutions to make local sugar production sustainable, efficient, competitive, and profitable, and to promote the welfare of small-scale sugarcane farmers and farmworkers.
Benitez said they will look into the many factors in play, primarily the slow implementation of SIDA programs, including its funding.
He noted that the budget allocated for SRA this year—P712.26 million—only covers the construction of farm-to-mill roads.
SIDA, in fact, mandates an annual appropriation of P2 billion.
“So what happens now to the soft infrastructure programs, such as support to farm consolidation or block farming of small-scale sugarcane farmers, as well as research on retooling the milling process to increase sugar recovery?” Benitez asked.
Under the TRAIN law, SIDA programs are supposed to benefit from the collection of excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, he said.
But despite collecting billions in taxes from sugar-sweetened beverages, Benitez said, “zero” has been allocated for SIDA programs.
He added that the Department of Budget and Management has consistently pointed out that the low absorptive capacity of the SRA does not motivate them to increase its budget.
The TWG will look into how to improve the SRA performance and identify bottlenecks in the implementation of programs, Benitez said.
“Is it lack of personnel or is it poor leadership?” Benitez, the younger brother of former Rep. Alfredo Benitez, who authored the SIDA law passed by Congress, asked.
The TWG tackled among possible solutions House Bill 997, which seeks to increase the mandatory appropriation of SIDA programs from P2 billion to P5 billion, granting greater powers to SRA to regulate sugar importation, and prescribes SIDA funds be allocated proportionally to milling districts in terms of productivity, and the call to SRA to shape up and scale-up its interventions to fulfill its mandates.
Benitez pointed out that they are not pointing fingers nor blaming anyone, rather, “We want to find solutions to the problems of the sugar industry.”
“At a time when the sugar industry is threatened by liberalization, at a time when our economy is being radically transformed by pandemics and climate change, we must work together to save the industry that has become an integral part of our culture,” he stressed. “No one bears the sole responsibility for the survival and growth of the sugar industry. Our shared destiny demands shared responsibility.” Benitez was joined by House minority leader Abang Lingkod Rep. Stephen Paduano, Bacolod Rep. Greg Gasataya, and former Rep. Mercedes Alvarez, who represented his father, Rep. Genaro Alvarez Jr. during the face-to-face blended meeting./(Eugene Y. Adiong/INews-Bacolod/Negros Bureau)