MANILA, Philippines — Select lawmakers have vowed to push for an increase in the budget intended for the programs under the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (Sida) after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) decided to cut its funding this year to P67 million from P2 billion.
In a hearing, Senator Cynthia Villar – head of the Senate committee on agriculture and food and one of the proponents of the Sida law – said it is important that the money be funneled to sugar farmers for the modernization of the industry, and as such, would push for a higher allocation for next year.
Other senators who pledged their support to the move were Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri and Nancy Villar.
The DBM, for its part, said it has decided to sharply cut the budget for Sida by 97 percent since its implementing agency, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), has been underspending the money since the law’s enactment in 2016.
Under the Sida law, programs that are meant to uplift the lives of sugar farmers and farm workers must be given P2 billion annually. Programs include the construction of farm-to-market roads (FMRs), block farms, provision of equipment, credit, and scholarships.
Last year, the Sida fund was slashed to P700 million, this year to P500 million, and for 2020’s Tier 1, P67 million.
During the Senate hearing on Thursday, SRA chief Hermenegildo Serafica blamed bureaucratic bottlenecks for the agency’s underspending. He said both the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Philippine Trade and Investment Center (PTIC) did not speedily act on the agency’s programs.
Despite the availability of the funds for credit in 2016, LandBank only came up with its implementing rules and regulations in 2018, while the PTIC have yet to procure machinery and equipment for SRA.
Based on data presented by the agency, the only components that it was able to fully fund were those that involved FMRs and scholarships due to the fast cooperation of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Commission on Higher Education.
As such, Villar asked for the commitment of DBM to not veto their proposal to increase the Sida budget for 2020 to at least P1.1 billion – 90 percent of which would be used for FMRs while the rest would be used to fund scholarships.
“There are no problems when it comes to infrastructure and scholarships because that’s easy. The problem is with the 45 percent of the budget, the shared facilities program… We have to fix that. LandBank must perform better,” she said.
Binay recommended that the funds given to PTIC should be funneled to other agencies that have the capacity to fast-track programs, while LandBank received a verbal beating from Villar for not prioritizing the agricultural sector.
This came just months after President Duterte proposed the abolition of the state-owned bank for its lackluster performance.
The hearing on the implementation of the Sida law developed amid the backdrop of an impending proposal from economic managers to liberalize the sugar industry to lower the cost of sugar in the market, which Villar, Zubiri, and Binay opposed. /muf
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