By Dominique Gabriel G. Bañaga
The performance of the Sugar Regulatory Administration is being scrutinized by the Congress especially the implementation of the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (SIDA).
Negros Occidental Third District Rep. Jose Francisco Benitez, who presided the House Inquiry on measures to strengthen the sugar industry on Thursday after Congress passed a resolution opposing the Sugar Liberalization, said they are discussing two bills and a resolution pertaining to amendments on SIDA Law which was authored by his brother, former Congressman Alfredo Benitez.
“It’s really an inquiry on how to best improve the function of the SRA and the implementation of the SIDA Law based on issues that emerged last year when congressmen united against the sugar liberalization.
Benitez said it was Rep .Stephen Paduano who pushed that an inquiry on SRA be held in Negros.
Among the issues against the SRA are the failure of the agency to fully utilize the P2 billion annual budget for the sugar industry under SIDA and that the Department of Budget and Management said that it has no capability to fully utilize the said budget.
“It is now up to us to put our side of the equation and do our share to make sure the industry functions well, efficiently and competitively, or else the threat of the liberalization will always loom us,” Benitez said.
Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano filed Resolution No. 225 directing the appropriate house committee to conduct an inquiry in aid legislation as to the reported failure of the SRA in the implementation of Republic Act 10659, or SIDA of 2015, causing adverse effects to the sugar industry in general and notably to the small farmers and workers.
Rep. Michael Romero, under House Bill 997, on the other hand proposes to increase the annual supplemental budget under the SIDA Law from the present annual budget of P2 billion to P5 billion which breakdown would include 15 percent will go to grants to block farms under the block farm program; 15 percent for socialized credit under the farm support and farm mechanization programs; 15 percent for research and development, capability building and technology transfer activities under research and development, extension services, human resources development and farm support programs: 5 percent for scholarship grants; and 50 percent for infrastructure support programs.
Under House Bill 2971, Rep. Manuel Sagarbarria proposes to amend Section 11 of Republic Act 10659 to ensure a proportionate allocation of the SIDA funds based on productivity and the strengthening of the SRA’s supervisory powers on the importation of sugar.
On the proportionate allocation of funds, Sagarbarria explained that if a mill district produces 15 percent of the total net sugar produced in a year, then 15 percent of the following year’s program of expenditure should be allocated to that district.
“Because mill districts have varying production levels, it stands to reason that the allocation of expenditures should be proportionate to such production levels,” he said.
He also said by basing the expenditure on productivity, the proposed amendment intends to foster healthy competition among mill districts.
“Districts are incentivized to produce more sugar if there is an expectation of greater funding as a reward,” Sagarbarria added./DGB, WDJ