Cane Points: Paner vs Piñol: A question of credibility

Upon his arrival in Negros yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Piñol was asked about his reaction on the statements of former Sugar Regulatory Administrator Anna Paner that the secretary was behind her exit from the agency.

Piñol disputed Paner's assertion that he did not like her from the start. However, he admitted that, last year, he initially endorsed Hermie Serafica, who was recommended by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez to be the new SRA chief.

He added that Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Clint Aranas, now the Deputy Commissioner for Legal of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, intervened for Paner and requested the secretary to endorse her. So he also endorsed Paner, who was eventually appointed to the post, even though he has already endorsed Serafica.

The secretary said yesterday that he would not play Paner's game and that her statements are plain cosmetics. He pointed out that, as presidential appointees, they serve at the pleasure of the President. If the President no longer wants anybody in the post, he or she should just shut up after separation from the post.

Paner's appointment dated October 10, 2016 was for the period July 31, 2016 to June 30, 2017. In her presscon last Wednesday, Paner emphasized that she resigned last August and her resignation was approved by the President on September.

News of her resignation came out on September 8. Shortly thereafter, she visited SRA-Bacolod to talk with the employees but declined giving a statement to the media.

On the other hand, a statement attributed to Pi?ol came out in a national daily on September 20, where he said that "Hermenegildo Serafica as new chief of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) will keep his post even if there is a report of his involvement in hiring overpaid consultants".

The report further stated: "The Agriculture chief also disclosed it was Serafica and lawyer Rolly Beltran who have exposed the 'anomalous' contract, noting that both board members claimed they were not briefed properly on the nature of the deal."

According to Paner, these statements imputing corruption on her stint in SRA compelled her to break her silence on the issue. Thus, she called for a presscon last Wednesday.

An incumbent secretary can throw imputations against a former head of an agency under his department, but he expects that this agency head will just shut up?

Paner debunked the statement attributed to Piñol that Sugar Board members Serafica and Beltran had little inkling on the nature of the assailed contract.

She emphasized that both of them approved the contract, authorized her to sign the contract in behalf of SRA and they were present at the signing of the MOA with the consultant, the presentation and approval of the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Plan and the launch of the program.

She explained the immediate need for the program which would allow SRA to allocate funds for disaster relief of industry stakeholders affected by disasters.

The consultant was tasked to formulate and implement a program, which is specific for each of the 27 mill districts of an industry, which contributes almost P90 billion annually to the national economy and which is spread out over 10 of the 17 regions of the country, from Cagayan up north to Davao down south.

The total project cost of P3 million is a pittance, when viewed in the context of the value and breadth of the industry which the program aims to protect. The contract was legit, above board, immediately needed by SRA and was reasonably priced. Despite all these, it was used as the excuse to bring down Paner in the eyes of the President.

Paner cited her unwavering stand against the importation of HFCS as the likely motive of some people for wanting her out of SRA.

"I fought HFCS importation with everything I've got, to the point of displeasing the DA, DTI and DOF. I cannot describe to you the kind of pressures hurled at me to allow the importation of HFCS, but I took a hard position against HFCS, which I am obviously paying for now.

But I do not regret doing what I did because, had the unhampered importation of HFCS been allowed, the effects of last year's importation would have been irreversible," Paner said last Wednesday.

Industry stakeholders know who stood up against HFCS importation and who gave the impression of being the padrino of beverage manufacturers who were importing HFCS.

Piñol has said that he would not revoke Sugar Order No. 3. He has some convincing to do, but he will have the opportunity to do so today during his consultations with sugarcane farm workers and farmers.*

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