Cane Points: Piñol: Let Bygones Be Bygones

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol was in the province last Thursday and Friday to distribute projects and consult with his constituents.

What greeted him upon his arrival were news reports of statements by former Sugar Regulatory Administrator Anna Paner that the secretary was behind her exit from SRA.

Paner's term expired on June 30. President Duterte should have simply appointed a replacement, and Paner would have silently faded from the public view without any fuss.

Unfortunately, pettiness got the better of some quarters whose feathers were ruffled by Paner's denial of their request to suspend the implementation of the sugar order regulating the importation and use of HFCS.

These people, whose egos suffered a beating from Paner's immovable and stoic stance on HFCS, saw the opportunity to get back at her by poisoning Duterte's mind with unfounded allegations of corruption in SRA. They succeeded in casting doubts on Paner's integrity, to the point that the President considered the abolition of SRA.

Of course, they shouldn't have expected a warrior like Paner to just sit back and whimper from their underhanded tactics, more so that her family's honor was already dragged into the fray.

She called for a press conference last Wednesday, debunking the allegations of corruption against her, citing her stance on HFCS as the cause of pressures against her, and laying the blame for her resignation at the doorsteps of the Department of Agriculture.

Piñol has to be commended for being gentlemanly in reacting to Paner's statements. He declined from adding more fuel to fire, sticking instead to the purpose of his visit, which is to deliver projects and meet with farmers and fishermen.

Last Thursday, he either pledged or distributed more than P130 million worth of farm machineries, fishing equipment and financial assistance. Last Friday morning, he met with the leaders of the National Federation of Sugar Workers and promised to give them farm equipment, credit facilities, livelihood and scholarships for their children.

The highlight of his two-day trip to the province was the forum with sugar industry stakeholders last Friday afternoon at the SRA - Bacolod Office. Before the forum, he had a brief private meeting with leaders of the Sugar Alliance and they reconciled the real and perceived differences between him and the industry leaders, particularly over the HFCS issue.

Accompanying Piñol to the forum were Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Visayas Atty. Hansel Didulo, DA6 Regional Director Remelyn Reloter, Sugar Board Members Hermie Serafica and Roland Beltran, Gov. Freddie Marañon and Vice-Gov. Bong Lacson.

The forum kicked off with Pi?ol administering the oath of office to newly-appointed Sugar Regulatory Administrator Hermie Serafica.

He declared that he is bent on moving forward and not on looking back to the past, referring to misunderstandings and clashes with sugar industry leaders earlier this year.

"Let bygones be bygones," he proclaimed.

The secretary intimated that Hermie's replacement as planters representative to the Sugar Board is a Negrense, but he did not want to make an official announcement until he sees the appointment papers. His statement bolstered the expectation that Sugar Alliance spokesman Atty. Dino Yulo will be appointed to the Sugar Board.

He assured stakeholders that Hermie's appointment is a strong indication that the President is not hell-bent on scrapping SRA.

Addressing apprehensions raised earlier by labor groups that Serafica might revoke Sugar Order No. 3, Piñol pledged that Sugar Order No. 3 is here to stay and that it would be upheld by the new SRA chief.

Stakeholders brought to his attention the industry's concerns on low sugar prices, smuggling, lack of farm labor, mill efficiency and high production cost, among others.

Piñol said he would hold a strategic meeting with the SRA chief and the Sugar Board early this month to address those concerns and to talk to other government agencies about the problems which are beyond the ambit of the agriculture department.

He also pledged two prototypes of solar-powered irrigation systems worth P6 million for the sugar farmers in southern Negros. When a sugar farmer from northern Negros requested that a prototype should also be installed in their area, Gov. Freddie pledged to finance the third project from the provincial government's agriculture budget.

Piñol pointed out that the budget for the three projects are from DA, not SRA, funds. He assured stakeholders that, from now on, the DA will fully assist SRA in working for the welfare of the sugar industry.

Apparently, all's well that ends well.

(For reactions and suggestions, email [email protected] Follow Cane Points in Facebook.)