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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, October 21, 2016
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TIGHT ROPE
WITH MODESTO P. SA-ONOY

SRA challenges

Tightrope

The new Sugar Regulatory Administrator appears to be a hands-on manager with an extensive experience in the industry and allied businesses.

Lawyer Anna Rosario Paner, however, is linked primarily to Victorias Milling Co. which makes her a miller and refiner, one of the major components of the industry. The other two are the sugarcane planters and the third, though not usually recognized, are the traders. There is another sector in the industry. These are the food processors.

The biggest sector, the consumers,isusually represented in the SRA by the government. Traditionally the sugar regulatory body, from the former Sugar Quota Board to the Philippine Sugar Commission, only three sectors are represented – millers, planters and consumers.

The interests of these sectors often times conflict. Consumers want a low price for their sugar, while the planters and the millers want a high price for their product. Between the planters and the millers there is also a conflict of interest. The planters want bigger returns from their canes while the millers want to keep a greater portion.

Anyway the law (RA 809) had set the rules on it but give it to the genius of man that the conflicts remain and take various forms.

Administrator Paner inherits from former Administrator Gina Martin an industry that is faced with multifarious problems. These are challenges that make or unmake an administrator.

For one, the Philippines is no longer a surplus producer of sugar. Our production is sufficient only for our consumption. In fact the expansion of the industry is placed in doubt considering the limitations of land for sugarcane plantation and government policy that discourages investments. The impact of the Sugar Industry Development Act is yet to be felt.

We know that former Administrator Martin tried her best to protect and develop the industry but she was working under the strain and stress of new world and local realities.

Administrator Paner is not a stranger to the challenges of the industry. Surely she had weighed closely what she is getting into and what the future presents. She must also divest from VMC.

Victorias Milling Company, the leading sugar producer in the country, has itself undergone pains. Succeeding owners and managers salvaged it and now is firmly on good ground, at least from the absence of issues involving VMC.

Information does not say how long Administrator Paner had managed VMC but surely her credentials must have convinced the President she is the best for the industry. However, as a miller she is practically unknown to the planters and considering the character of the leaders of the planters groups, she has a lot of “learning” to do.

Since its creation the SRA had been headed by planters or persons allied with sugarcane planters. The reason for this is that the planters produce the majority of the sugar. On the other hand since the creation of the Sugar Quota Board in 1935, the government had control over the industry.

The administrator therefore walks the tightrope to insure the balance of conflicting interests in the industry. There was some sort of “unity” under Administrator Martin who understood pretty well these personalities she had to deal with but in the process there also arose voices outside the SRA cordon that charged the existence of a “sugar mafia”.

Several publications claimed this group influenced the decision of SRA that the planters were being shortchanged through manipulation of data and allocations for various markets particularly for the US export market.With the dollar appreciating in value against the peso, the export market will become a serious issue.

During the Spanish times the landowner was the miller as well. He was lord of the manor but the introduction of the centrifugal mills reduced the landowner to a mere producer of the cane. The plantersin every district organized an association that dominated the agricultural sector, particularly through the use of the reparto system, the system of allocation of cane cars.

When trucks replaced the trains as haulers of canes to the mills, the reparto and the milling districts were also thrown out with the rail road. The monolithic planters associations of the milling districtsevolved into new planters associations that remainedas powerful platforms of small planters. The thousands of small planters emerged with the agrarian reform parceling of sugar lands. Their needs consequently multiplied.

Administrator Paner needs all the skills and help she can muster.*

 

           

 

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