Paner: ‘SRA & Sugar Industry are Victims of Politics’

Former Sugar Regulatory Administrator Anna Rosario Paner finally breaks her silence on the circumstances behind her resignation as head of the Sugar Regulatory Administration and on allegations that she hired “overpriced” consultants to prepare the agency’s Disaster Risk Reduction Management Program (DRRMP).

Former Sugar Regulatory Administrator Anna Rosario Paner finally breaks her silence on the circumstances behind her resignation during yesterday’s press conference in Bacolod City.*

“I did not gain anything from any contracts that SRA entered into, including for this consultant,” Paner said in a press conference held yesterday in Bacolod.

“SRA and the sugar industry are victims of politics. It’s not fair for the people of SRA and for the sugar industry,” she lamented.

Quoting an article published in a national newspaper, Paner pointed out that Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol himself disclosed that Sugar Board Members Hernie Serafica and Roland Beltran exposed the alleged anomalous contract, claiming that they were not briefed properly on the nature of the deal.

“This is also why I chose to break my silence because I have reason to believe that the President was misinformed by these so-called whistleblowers which formed the basis of the President’s misgivings on SRA,” she said.

Paner resigned from SRA in August and her resignation was approved by the President in September. When her resignation was announced, the President also recommended the abolition of SRA amidst the alleged hiring by the agency of “overpriced” consultants.

She narrated that, upon assumption of her post in November 2016, she was confronted with COA audit findings 2015, taking SRA to task for the absence of a DRRMP, which is required by law. The lack of a DRRMP prevented SRA from allocating resources to help farmers and millers affected by disasters.

Frustrated by SRA’s helplessness in responding to the needs of its stakeholders during disasters, Paner said she prioritized the preparation of the DRRMP to be implemented by June 2017, so that when the typhoon season sets in, the program would be in place and a budget would have been earmarked to respond to disasters which might hit the industry.

Paner debunked the claim of Serafica and Beltran that they were not briefed properly about the DRRMP, citing that Beltran chaired the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Committee convened by SRA and that both were present during the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement with the consultant in January, the presentation of the DRRMP in May and its eventual launch in June.

“That contract, like any other entered into by SRA, went through the regular process and was cleared by the concerned managers,” Paner emphasized.

“In December 2016, the SRA Board, which of course includes Serafica and Beltran, approved the TOR (terms of reference) and gave me the authority to sign the contract. In fact, to refresh their memory, they were present in the signing of the MOA in January 2017 and hailed the act which they endorsed,” she stressed.

“On May 10, 2017 the draft DRRMP was presented to the Board, including Serafica and Beltran, and the SRA managers. This draft was approved. The DRRMP project was indeed completed within the time frame agreed upon and it was launched at the SRA office in June 2017. In attendance during the June 2017 launch was Beltran and Serafica, through Jennifer Artates,” she added.

Paner said that the lead consultant was an expert in Disaster Risk Reduction Management, having been formerly the Executive Director of the Office of Civil Defense under the Department of National Defense and, as such, was in charge of the implementation of the Philippine Disaster Reduction Management Framework.

The consultant initially said that it will take one year to one and a half years to prepare a DRRMP, because it was a plan not just for SRA but for the planters, millers, distillers, the whole industry. However, Paner said she insisted that it must be done in six months, so that the program would already be in place when typhoon season comes.

“The fee for the lead consultant for the period of 12 months was supposed to be P1.2 million, inclusive of taxes, which will be paid only after certain deliverables are provided to SRA. So instead of the P1.2 million being spread over 1 year, it was spread over 6 months, but still based on actual deliverables. So, no actual output, no payment. Thus, the P200,000 a month fee which has been mentioned,” she stated.

“All I know is that from day 1, I have not been the popular choice and, to be candid about this, (Agriculture) Sec. Piñol, during my oath taking told me, ‘You are not my choice’, she added.

She recalled that, at the height of the HFCS issue, “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.”

“We found an ally in the President who gave me marching orders to protect the industry; thus, the issuance of Sugar Order No. 3. But while the President was backing this one up, I was getting mixed signals from the Secretary (Piñol), who wanted to suspend the implementation of SO3, but I stood firm in my decision,” she said.

“For some time, my detractors have been trying to figure out what my weakness is. To the point of asking, ‘Sino ba ang padrino ni Annie? Bakit parang ang tapang tapang nya?’ Maniwala kayo na kung sino-sino na ang kumausap sa akin and they still couldn’t figure what is my weakness. But eventually they found my weakness, and these are the men and women of SRA who have been placed in the middle of this politicking by some who will disregard decency to grab power,” she said.

“Thus, I took courage to leave the agency. I took the cudgel alone because those with me had no balls to stand by their decision and rather twisted the facts to their advantage,” Paner stressed.

I have not abused the SRA with any expense, something that you should ask the others there. In fact, while I continued to accept the P5,000 per diem for board members as mandated, the other board members opted to increase theirs. Nor have I abused the system through reimbursements almost at par with the consultancy fee who at least had deliverables to substantiate the expense, she added.

She pointed out that her only agenda in calling for the presscon is to tell her side of the story and to tell the President that she has served him, the nation and the sugar industry with full transparency and good faith.

Paner urged the industry stakeholders to remain steadfast and united, and to stand as one in facing the challenges which confront the industry. She also thanked the SRA employees, adding that it was an honor for her to have been their Administrator.*(Butch Bacaoco)