CEBU CITY - Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala confirmed Wednesday that the appointment of Ma. Regina B. Martin as the new head of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) was already signed by President Benigno Aquino III.

SRA is an allied agency under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Alcala made the official announcement during the opening ceremonies of the Philippine Sugar Technologists Association's (Philsutech) 57th Annual National Convention at the Waterfront Hotel, Cebu City where the DA secretary was the keynote speaker.

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President Aquino was originally set to deliver the keynote address but affairs of state kept him from attending the biggest annual event in the sugar industry. The President thus sent Alcala instead.

"I humbly accept the appointment. I thank P.Noy for the trust and confidence that I can lead the SRA. I will have to prepare fast and ask for a briefing so I can work immediately," said Martin, who was an Aquino ally during the recent election.

The announcement about Martin's appointment was made by Alcala after he had already delivered his address where he outlined the plans of the DA to help the agricultural sector, particularly the sugar industry. He also relayed President Aquino's message to the sugar producers.

The program was scheduled to proceed to the presentation of the plaque of appreciation to the keynote speaker when Alcala informed the master of ceremonies that he had an important announcement to make.

It was only then that he made the announcement confirming the signing of Martin's appointment by the President. The confirmation came as no surprise because, early Wednesday evening, there were already text messages circulating within the sugar sector regarding Martin's appointment.

What was not immediately clear was the date of effectivity of the appointment, as the term of the current SRA chief Bernardo Trebol was supposed to run until the end of October.

In fact, Trebol was supposed to be the guest speaker in Thursday's plenary session. During Philsutech conventions, the honor of being the guest speaker during the second day of the convention is traditionally given to the current SRA administrator.

Recognizing the dilemma of the convention organizers, Alcala assured the delegates that he will help solve the problem regarding the speaker for the plenary session.

"I will talk to Gina Martin and ask her to come here and be your speaker tomorrow," the DA secretary told the delegates Wednesday.

Matin's appointment was generally well-received within the sugar industry.

Enrique D. Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, Inc. said "We are happy that Gina was appointed to the position because, being a sugar producer herself, she understands the industry. Further, we are proud that the next SRA administrator is also from Negros, the province which accounts for 60% of the country's sugar production."

"Gina's character and reputation is unblemished. We believe that, with her at the helm of SRA, we can seriously implement measures to eliminate sugar smuggling, solve other problems in the industry and ensure that sugar prices will remain favorable both for producers and consumers," Rojas added.

For his part, Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. urged all industry stakeholders to cooperate with the newly appointed SRA head.

"I wish her good luck and I also challenge her to take the sugar smuggling problem seriously," Marañon said. (Butch Bacaoco and Teresa Ellera-Dulla)