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House panel: SRA must revisit real mandate

THE chairman of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability on Sunday asked the new appointees to the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Board to return their agency to its original mandate, that is, to protect sugar planters and to broaden its function by focusing on modernizing the industry.

In a statement, San Jose del Monte Rep. Florida Robes said that based on recent hearings of the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability and the Committee on Agriculture headed by Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga (1st District), several panel members noticed that the SRA over the years veered toward sugar importation as the only measure to address the so-called supply problems—which, apparently, was not on its original mandate.

“What we have learned so far as the recent sugar importations was the lack of consultation with sugar farmers and other stakeholders as well as the lack of transparency in dealing with the sugar importation…Parang sila-sila lang ang nag-uusap [It seems they’re only talking to each other],” Robes said.

“Usec Leocadio Sebastian apparently misread the mind of President Marcos and jumped the gun on the importation by circulating SO4 and signed on behalf of the Agriculture Secretary. As for resigned SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, he did not consult the board with regard to SO4 and merely circulated a Board Resolution without consulting his technical staff,” she added.

According to Robes, the joint committee will dig deeper into the controversy and probe links of some officials to lobby groups and unscrupulous traders, hoarding and sugar importation utilizing recycled permits.

She said her committee also wants to know the lack of foresight among SRA officials in dealing with sugar production.

“I was told that in Tarlac and Pampanga, two major sugar producers in Luzon, small planters have already stopped planting sugarcane owing to the lack of government intervention, and have resorted to planting other crops,” she added.

“It is sad to say that major agricultural areas have also been converted into industrial, commercial and even residential, gated communities despite the fact that these lands sit on and near irrigation canals,” she added.

The joint House panel investigating the botched sugar importation under SO4 will resume its probe on Thursday and will concentrate on other invited guests, including SRA technical staff, to shed light on whether there is really a need to import sugar in the meantime, and by how much.

Robes said that aside from investigating alleged corrupt practices, the joint committee hearing will probably lead to the crafting of laws to strengthen the agricultural sector to help the Marcos administration come up with a policy to achieve food independence and eventually, food sovereignty.

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