More rift in the SRA

By Modesto P. Sa-onoy

Last week I wrote about a public rift within the Sugar Regulatory Administration when the two representatives for the producers – planters and millers – claimed that the SRA administrator, Hermenegilo Serafica had entered into an agreement with the Department of Trade and Industries that would open the door for sugar importation.

Serafica denied the charge of the two members, Roland Beltran and Emilio “Dino” Yulo. But this explanation came late before the damage was done.

This spat could have been easily resolved between them had the two members called Serafica for an explanation or wait for their regular meeting to discuss the “report” about Serafica’s meeting with DTI. By talking to the press first, Beltran and Yulo exposed a rift – all is not well in the SRA.

Now comes Party List Representative Stephen Paduano claiming that the SRA passed Sugar Order No. 5 that allowed the importation of 250,000 metric tons at the start of the milling season was opposed by Serafica. In effect, Beltran and Yulo were responsible for the authorization of the importation.

Although that volume of sugar was intended for industrial users and not the direct consumers market, Paduano further claims that the importation has hurt the sugar farmers because farm gate prices of locally produced sugar drastically went down causing an avalanche of complaints.

How could Beltran and Yulo approve this order when they are in the forefront in the opposition to importation? This does not make sense except that it could be one reason for the rift within the SRA officialdom.

Sugar Order No. 5 was issued in August 2018 for Crop Year 2018-2019 and carried the signatures of approval of Beltran, Yulo and Agriculture Undersecretary Gorgonio Roldan but not of Serafica.

Even granting that the imported sugar destination is the industrial users who had been the most vocal opponent of regulated importation, why did Serafica refuse his signature from Sugar Order No. 5? Was he absent during the meeting? That seems to be a poor excuse.

On the other hand, Paduano’s statement places the two members in a bad light before the industry sector they represent as well raise questions on their opposition to import liberalization. If the SRA board was unanimous in allowing the regulated importation, we can assume the justifications are permissible, but the weighty member, the Administrator, did not publicly agree.

I hope the two can react to the Paduano statement, considering that their approval of importation while appearing to fight against importation, places their actuations in grave doubt as to sincerity. But as of Saturday, there was no report of a reaction.

Is the rift within the SRA the reason for its inability to formulate and implement a program for the strengthening of the industry despite the availability of P2 billion annual fund? Senator Cynthia Villar had strong words against the SRA administration – it is a failure.

All the efforts for a national program for the strengthening of the sugar industry will come to naught if the SRA was unable to implement a program. Indeed, the SRA is the agency tasked to insure the competitiveness and survival of the industry. If there are cracks within its leadership it may not be able to formulate even a program, much less implement it.

The leaders of the industry are united in this one objective – ability to compete with imported sugar. I think if a program were to be formulated and implemented, the industry should establish a separate mechanism although collaborative with SRA.

I believe that the industry is not bereft of great ideas on how to obtain their objective of competitiveness. There are dozens of programs that had been gathering dust through the years for lack of implementation. They can now be taken out of the shelves.

Surely, there are problems, but the main difficulty – funding – is now available with government appropriations.

History also provides a framework. In the past the needs of the industry were covered. The Philippine Sugar Institute focused on research; the Sugar Quota Administration managed supply and demand and the Philippine National Bank, financed the producers. The association of Philippine Sugar Technologists knows what the industry needs and can do.

The producers rather than government should craft the program and have a direct role in any national program. They should not let this chance pass.