Senator questions smaller sugar industry dev’t fund for 2017

PASAY CITY -- A senator questioned the smaller fund allotted for the implementation of the Sugar Industry Development Act (Sida) this year.

Senator Cynthia Villar, who led the joint committee hearing on the impact of increasing importation of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) at the Senate Tuesday, April 18, directed Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol to demand for the P2-billion annual allocation from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

“Why is it that there is only about P1.4 billion fund this year,” Villar, chair of Senate committee on agriculture and food, asked, adding that the P600-million shortfall can actually help sugarcane farmers become more competitive.

Piñol, who also attended the hearing, said the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) has utilized only about 59 percent of the P2 billion fund which resulted to smaller allocation this year.

The DBM usually cuts the budget if there is underspending, he added.

“However, Senator Villar was right, you cannot cut it because it is in the law,” Piñol said, adding that they will call the attention of SRA Administrator Anna Rosario Paner and ask the DBM to release the differential.

Paner, also present at the hearing, explained that Sida was passed in 2015, but the first tranche of the fund was downloaded only in September last year.

“Technically, Sida has been effective for less than a year now because the fund was downloaded during the time things started to roll,” Paner said, adding that the “government’s procurement process was very hard.”

For his part, Negros Occidental Third District Representative Alfredo Benitez, author of the Sida in the House of Representative, said they already have an agreement with the committee on appropriations that the remaining P600 million will be provided in 2018.

“Thus, instead of P2 billion, we are looking at a P2.6 billion fund next year,” Benitez said as he urged the SRA to propose a budget of at least P3.5 billion so that there is a room to lobby for more funds.*
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