BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri has challenged the new leadership of the Sugar Regulatory Administration to make full use of the Sugar Industry Development Act fund, which through the years has been reduced to a minimum of P500 million from the original annual budget of P2 billion.
Zubiri, in his speech at the PHILSUTECH 68th annual national convention in Bacolod City, which was read by Negros Occidental 5th District Rep. Emilio “Dino” Yulo, said “our priority should always be our own production, our own farmers, and our own food security.”
Newly-designated SRA acting administrator David John Thaddeus Alba yesterday said that SIDA funds were under-utilized in the past several years because SRA has no capacity to go through the bureaucratic red tape in order to get funds, to work with the Department of Public Works and Highways and National Irrigation Authority, among other government agencies.
The SRA office has no manpower that can tackle the process, Alba, who was recently appointed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as acting SRA head, said.
When it comes to credit, our farms or land is not bankable. We need financing. That has to be worked out with Land Bank and SIDA, he said.
With P500 million budget allocated for SIDA in 2023, Alba said they will have to work out how to get it back to P2 billion in the next several years.
Under the SIDA law, programs that are meant to uplift the lives of sugar farmers and farm workers must be given P2 billion annually. Programs include the construction of farm to mill roads(FMRs), block farms, provision of equipment, credit and scholarships.
Noting a high utilization rate for FMRs, Negros Occidental 5th District Rep. Emilio “Dino” Yulo has suggested that its budget should be increased.
The allocated budget for construction of FMRs is 50 percent of the of P2 billion annual budget, which is P1 billion, according to Yulo.
He also noticed a high utilization rate in education and scholarships, but not the socialized credit, which has been underutilized because of the stringent process in availing it, he added.
Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Committee on Agriculture, Food, and Agrarian Reform, said that the implementation SIDA could have prevented the sugar fiasco.
Attending the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the alleged irregularities in the SRA on Tuesday, Villar said the law’s purpose is to improve the industry’s competitiveness, which means to produce more sugar at a lower cost.
Under the law, she added, SRA was given P2 billion a year, where 15 percent will be spent for grants to block farms; 15 percent for socialized credit; 15 percent for research and development and capability development building; 5 percent for scholarship grants; and 50 percent for the infrastructure support program.*