“I WILL not turn my back on the chance to serve the industry.”

Negrense planter Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama Jr. said this amid questions hounding his appointment as member of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) board.

Valderrama, in an open letter to the sugarcane industry and its stakeholders Wednesday, August 10, said he is humbled and challenged by the opportunity given to him by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to serve as planters’ representative to the Sugar Board.

“For the record, I did not seek this position and did not even consider the possibility, given my open support for the candidacy of then Vice President Leni Robredo in the recently held elections,” he added.

Valderrama is the president of the Vicmico Planters Association Inc. and current director of the Confederation of Sugar Producers Association Inc. (Confed).

He was sworn into office by Bacolod City Mayor Alfredo Abelardo "Albee" Benitez at the New Government Center last week.

Valderrama said that when his colleagues informed him that he was nominated, he tried to beg off, citing among other reasons his wife’s current medical condition.

Knowing the pressures that would be brought to bear in the SRA by present circumstances, Valderrama said he wanted to avoid unnecessary stress that could affect his family at this time.

“But when Malacañang called to inform me of my appointment, I was left with little choice but to consider this my ‘tour of duty,’ an opportunity to serve the industry that has been the source of livelihood for so many people, including my family,” his open letter stated.

Valderrama admitted that he wondered why him and not someone else close to the current administration.

“But how do you say no if this gesture were in fact a genuine manifestation of the President’s call for unity? And how does one say no when the opportunity to serve the industry, especially to promote the welfare of the small and marginalized sugarcane producers who are struggling to survive, presents itself?” he asked.

The planter further said,“I thus accepted the call, motivated by my most fervent wish – to help unite the industry, to put our acts together, to speak with one voice and to work as one to address the many challenges we confront in these difficult times.”

“Some quarters are questioning my appointment and are seeking its revocation,” Valderrama said.

On Tuesday, August 9, Negros Occidental Vice Governor Jeffrey Ferrer said he is working out for the revocation of the appointment of Valderrama as member of the SRA Board representing the planters.

Ferrer, who has been designated as the personal adviser of the President for Western Visayas last week, said it is Valderrama himself who is provoking him to work out for the revocation of his appointment.

"They have to be thankful to the President that despite that he [Valderrama] has been attacking him [Marcos] during the campaign, he got the appointment which was hastily done,” he said, saying that it only shows that the President is a good person.

Ferrer also agreed that it is good that a Negrense got the appointment.

“It's good he was recommended for the position and accepted it despite that he uttered bad words against Marcos during the campaign," the vice governor said.

The appointment of Valderrama is only in an acting capacity, Ferrer earlier said, adding that he might be recommended by a different planter’s group.

For Valderrama, this is not a problem to him, saying that “I am not indispensable nor do I covet the position.”

“I will not turn my back on the chance to serve the industry, but I do not wish to burden the President if this has become a problem for him,” he said, adding that “there is no need for debate or recrimination. I am at the President’s disposal.”

Valderrama called on industry stakeholders, regardless of affiliation, to work as one for the common good.

“My only wish as planters’ representative is to serve as your voice and your bridge to the SRA and the policy makers,” he said.

“If the President finds it appropriate to enlist someone else, let us respect his prerogative and wish them success,” Valderrama said as he thanked the President for the opportunity to serve the sugarcane industry.

More support

In a related development, three large sugar producers groups in the country issued a manifesto of support for the appointment of Valderrama.

The manifesto was signed on August 10, 2022 by Enrique Rojas of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters Inc. (NFSP), Raymond Montinola Confed, and Danilo Abelita of Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers Inc. (Panayfed).

“Valderrama’s appointment is a most timely development, with the nation facing the challenges of sugar shortage and high prices on the one hand and very high costs of sugar production and diminishing productivity on the other,” they said.

The sugar leaders said that with the industry facing a supply shortage even as milling for the new season begins, the SRA needs a working board in order to undertake measures to stabilize supply and maintain prices at levels that provide reasonable profit for producers while making sugar more available and affordable to consumers and industrial or institutional end-users.

“The appointment of Valderrama completes the SRA Board and as such, timely and calibrated policies and programs can be put in place to address the issues of sugar supply, spiralling prices and reduced productivity, particularly as the country seeks to recover from the calamity brought about by Typhoon Odette on top of the devastation caused by coronavirus disease (Covid-19),” they said.

Among the needed measures is a calibrated sugar import program to follow on the heels of SRA Sugar Order No. 3, Series of 2021-2022, for which stakeholder recommendations have been submitted, they added.

The manifesto stated that Confed together with Panayfed and NFSP, which collectively comprise 57.48 percent of total sugar production, believed that Valderrama is an excellent choice to represent the planters as a member of the Sugar Board.

Valderrama, it said, adheres to the spirit of teamwork and consultation in matters that affect the industry as a whole.

“His long years of active involvement in the sugar industry have shown his readiness to work with industry leaders and stakeholders, especially the small farmers,” it said, adding that “with Valderrama’s experience, understanding of the sugar business and desire to bring stakeholders together to promote the welfare of the industry, we are one in firmly manifesting our support for his appointment.”

Meanwhile, in a separate statement Wednesday, Ferrer reiterated that he will “protect the President” insofar as the appointment of Valderrama.

"As a loyal supporter, leader, friend, a family, and the President's adviser, I will protect him, especially in choosing the right leader for the sugar industry who truly deserves his appointment," the vice governor said.

Supporters of Marcos were even surprised. How come he applied for the position and did show delicadeza not to do so, Ferrer asked.

"I am here to also protect the BBM supporters in Negros Occidental whose sentiment is likewise paramount on this matter," he added. (With reports from Carla N. Cañet)