‘Review, rectify Sida fund slash’
THE Confederation of Sugar Producers (Confed) is urging the solons in Negros and Panay to make a representation before the Congress to review and rectify the cut in next year’s Sugar Industry Development Act (Sida) fund.
From this year’s allocation of P1.2 billion, it will be reduced to P500 million due to underutilization.
Confed chairman Nicholas Ledesma, in a statement yesterday, said it should not have happened because Sida fund utilization reached to P1.2 billion in the previous budget. Majority of which went to infrastructure and scholarships, he said.
Citing the records of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), Ledesma said only the funds for socialized credit has been underutilized because of the stringent process involved in availing the program.
This practically makes it difficult for small farmers to access, he added.
“With the recent abolition of the Philippine Sugar Corp. (Philsucor), we are pressed to appeal that socialized credit availability must be made simpler for small farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries,” Ledesma said, adding that “these farmers comprise almost 90 percent of sugar producers and for whom Sida was mainly intended by making the industry more competitive.”
On Monday, Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food chairman Cynthia Villar said the budget cut was due to underspending.
Villar, who was the
guest of honor during the Pintaflores Festival in San Carlos City, said the fund has been underspent every year.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) cut the allocation because they believed that the agencies involved has no capacity to fully spend the funds allocated, she added.
Sida, or Republic Act 10659, was enacted in 2015. It aims to promote the competitiveness of the sugarcane industry and maximize the utilization of sugarcane resources and improve the incomes of farmers and farm workers, through improved productivity, product diversification, job generation, and increased efficiency of sugar mills.
Of the P2 billion annual allocation, P1 billion should go to infrastructure for farm to mill roads, P300 million for credit, P100 million for scholarship, P300 million for block farm of the land reform beneficiaries and P300 million for shared facilities program.
Villar also revealed that the funds intended for credit is still with the Land Bank of the Philippines, and unutilized.
“They should not go lower than P500 million,” the senator had said, noting that “I always told them to study on how to fully utilize the fund because if you do not it will be lowered by the DBM every year.”
For Confed, the budget cut will have a drastic effect on the industry’s track to hasten mechanization as a priority for this year as well.
Ledesma said they are also urging that the budget for research and development must be kept intact as this is necessary for the industry’s sustainability.
Also, the confederation appeals to the SRA to be more aggressive in program implementation.
It urges the SRA to create a desk that will solely work on Sida and how to make this more accessible to industry stakeholders.
Ledesma said they also see the need for the creation of an oversight committee to see to it that programs are indeed workable and addressing the present needs of the farmers.
“We have suffered enough in the past two years and this move will further dampen our situation,” he said, adding that “we strongly appeal to our solons to seek a review of the budget and give the industry our due to make it globally competitive and sustainable.”
SRA Board Member Emilio Yulo III earlier confirmed the budget cut for next year.
Yulo affirmed that the reason for not fully utilizing the fund was because of the constraint brought by the requirement in the socialized credit program that needs to pass the rules of the Commission on Audit.
“But, the budget should not be cut down to only P500 million because the fund allocated for the scholarship program was 100 percent utilized and for the infrastructure for the farm to mill road was 96 percent spent,” he added.*