Senators grill SRA for underspending; failure to obligate funds shortchanges farmer-beneficiaries

Published August 15, 2019, 10:22 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senators on Thursday grilled the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) and other agencies for failing to fully obligate funds for programs for the sugar farmers as mandated by law.

Sen. Cynthia Villar (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)
Sen. Cynthia Villar
(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

The Senate committee on agriculture and food started its inquiry on the SRA’s implementation of the Republic Act 10695 or the Sugar Cane Industry Development Act (SIDA), which was signed into law in 2015.

Senator Cynthia Villar, committee chair, asked SRA administrator Hermenigildo Serafica to explain his agency’s failure to fully spend its P2-billion fund for the SIDA.

Under the law, the P2 billion should be given the sugar industry and be spent as follows: 15 percent or P300 million for block farm grants; 15 percent for research and development, capability building and technology transfer; 15 percent for socialized credits to be implemented by Land Bank for farm support and mechanization; five percent or P100 million for scholarship grants and human resources development programs; and 50 percent or P1 billion for infrastructure development programs for farm-to-mill roads, irrigation and transport infrastructure.

But Villar, who sponsored the said law in Senate, said the underspending prompted the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to slash the SIDA fund from P2 billion in 2016, to P500 million in 2019.

She feared that the underspending, if left uncorrected, will result in a budget of only P67 million by 2020.

Serafica, in his opening statement, admitted the implementation of the programs under the SIDA “slowed” down.

Explaining to the panel, Serafica, for instance, said that only P85 million of the P324-million allocation for the block farm grants was utilized in 2016.

For this, he blamed the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) for its alleged failure to procure machineries for sugar farmers. Serafica said the SRA “transferred” the funds to the PITC in attempt to purchase “more” equipment.

“So ang may kasalanan ng non-implementation of the P300 million na naging P85 million, ang PITC (So the PITC was at fault for the non-implementation of the P300 million fund that became P85 million)?” Villar asked, to which Serafica responded, “Yes.”

Serafica said a P226-million fund for research and development equipment also went to the PITC. The senators said the SRA should have tapped the Department of Science and Technology instead.

The SRA official also pointed to Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) for releasing only P48 million of the P206-million socialized credit facility endorsed by the SRA for individual farmers in 2016.

As for the scholarship grants and the infrastructure projects under the SIDA, Serafica said the agency has “fully utilized” the appropriated funds for 2016.