TALISAY CITY -- Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol assured the Negrenses he will help address the issues and challenges hounding the sugar industry.
Piñol, who was joined by Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. for a breakfast at the Nature’s Village resort here Thursday, said he understands the plight of the sugar industry stakeholders as he used to be a planter before he joined the public service.
He dismissed the notion that he is not concerned with the sugar industry, as he quipped: “Ano gusto nila, i-kiss ko sila? (What do they want, I’ll kiss them?).”
One of the “very serious problems” confronting the sugar industry is the “very slow utilization” of the P2 billion annual allocation of the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (Sida), he said.
“For the year 2016, less than 50 percent of the Sida fund was utilized. That’s the reason why DBM (Department of Budget and Management) cut the P1 billion for the farm to mill roads because of the very slow fund utilization,” he explained.
Piñol added that the Sida fund this year was still untouched, and it’s already October.
“My concept of governance, if you don’t utilize the funds given to you in your department, it’s not only an indication you’re not doing anything. It’s an indication that you didn’t deliver to the people what they should get and that’s disservice,” Piñol said.
He also said the Sida still has a remaining P350-million allocation from the LandBank of the Philippines for the credit facility.
He said he will relay this concern to the sugar industry stakeholders in a forum today at the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) office in Bacolod City.
Moreover, Piñol said he appealed to the senators in the last budget hearing to restore the P2-billion fund.
“It’s a law. Sida is a law. You can’t change the budget there, because it’s mandated by the law that there should be P2 billion budget every year whether they use it or not.”
He also dismissed reports that he was the reason why the Sida fund was cut.
“Sorry for the language, but that’s bulls***. It’s not true,” he said.
No SRA abolition
Moreover, Piñol said he doesn’t think President Rodrigo Duterte will abolish SRA.
“I think the President only floated that idea. You know how the President is, he floats an idea and when you explain to him the right perspective, he listens,” he added.
Piñol also said the appointment of the new SRA administrator is an “indication” that the agency will not be abolished.
“I would understand the action of the President in that context,” he said.
He confirmed that Duterte has already signed the appointment paper of SRA Board Member Hermenigildo Serafica to succeed Anna Rosario Paner as the Administrator.
Duterte had earlier announced that he fired Paner due to hiring of consultants with excessive pay, but the former SRA head said she already resigned from her post before the President’s announcement.
Piñol hits Paner
Paner said the sugar industry became a victim of politics, and she was a collateral damage.
She also said she was not the first choice of Piñol, a claim vehemently denied by the Agriculture chief.
“I will not play the game of Annie Paner. She’s making all of these statements. I don’t know what her purpose is, cosmetics? We’re all Presidential appointees. When the President says na ayaw niya na sa’yo, tumahimik ka na (if he doesn’t want you, just keep your mouth shut),” Piñol said.
He said he doesn’t want to argue as Paner can say whatever she wants.
“In fact, she said I didn’t like her. I was the one who endorsed her. She should not lie...I’m the Agriculture Secretary, I endorse people. Without my endorsement, there’s no appointment,” he said.
He said he first endorsed Serafica, but the group of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Internal Revenue Deputy Commissioner Jesus Clint Aranas insisted on Paner.
“I then endorsed her and she got appointed. So she should not say I didn’t like her from the start, it’s not true,” he added.
Asked if Serafica is qualified for the position, Piñol said that “this job is not only a one-man job. We’re going to work in this together. In fact, that’s the reason why I’m here.”
With the appointment of Serafica, Sugar Alliance of the Philippines spokesperson Emilio Yulo III was appointed to the Sugar Board, Piñol said.
“I think his appointment was already signed,” he added.
Meanwhile, Marañon said he is confident that Piñol will help the Negrenses as he is a “hands-on” Agriculture Secretary.
He also said he is hoping and praying that Serafica will become successful as the new SRA administrator, adding that he needs the help of the industry.
“He can’t do it alone. The people in the industry should help everyone,” the governor added.