‘Re­view, rec­tify Sida fund slash’

Sun Star Bacolod - - Front Page - BY ER­WIN P. NICAVERA

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.*

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