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NTA marks 30th year

THE National Tobacco Administration, the sole government agency mandated to administer and regulate the local tobacco industry, has been looking after the interest and welfare of tobacco growers in the past three decades.

It has implemented programs and projects aimed at improving the economic and living conditions and raise the quality of life of the farmers and those who depend on the industry for their livelihood.

On July 24, NTA celebrated its 30th anniversary—the commemoration of three decades since the agency was founded after the merger in 1987 of eight distinct government agencies that dealt with the tobacco industry.

The 30th Anniversary program, attended by central office employees, branch managers, branch awardees, guests from the private sector, and farmers, was held at the NTA Central Office quadrangle in Quezon City, on July 28.

Also in attendance during the culminating program were two former administrators, Alonzo Q. Ancheta (1987-1990) and Edgardo D. Zaragoza (2010-2017), and officers of the National Federation of Tobacco Farmers Associations and Cooperatives (NAFTAC).

The program was highlighted by the awarding of the outstanding tobacco growers and extension workers, and fellowship night where retirees and long-serving employees (30 years and above in service) were recognized, the conduct of a talent search dubbed "NTA's Got Talent," and awarding of winners of the annual sportsfest.

"This 30th anniversary marks the highlights of our achievements as an agency, as well as the celebration of our past and present employees, our tobacco farmers, and other industry stakeholder who have been with us since our foundation day," Administrator Robert L. Seares said.

The theme of the celebration, "Akmang Serbisyo Tungo sa Makabuluhang Pagbabago," explains the vision of the current leadership as "we transform our agency into an instrument of change through dedicated service for our stakeholders, especially our tobacco growers," according to Administrator Seares.

"NTA will continue to rein the industry to where it should be," he said, as he enjoined the stakeholders "to achieve our goals for the next 30 years or so."

Deputy Administrator for Operations Atty. Mel John I. Verzosa emphasized "serbisyo at pagbabago (service and change)" in his welcome remarks. "Both of which can only be motivated by the individual public servant, through an honest service, guided by the NTA mission and vision to improve the quality of life for tobacco farmers and all stakeholders through increased productivity and other income-generating activities," he said.

He encouraged government workers and partners of the industry to use their skill and experience to adapt to the changes and find new alternatives and purpose. "In the months ahead, we are going to have plenty of opportunities to discuss in more details the goals and strategic direction of our organization," he added.

Commitment from stakeholders

Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Segfredo R. Serrano, who represented DA Secretary Manny F. Piñol in the event, assured the NTA of the department's support in international conventions on tobacco control, and its engagement with Congress and other fora that deal on matters about the industry. "Ang Department of Agriculture ay kasama at kabalikat ng NTA sa pagtatanggol at pagbibigay ng proteksion sa interes ng ating industria ng pagtatabako," he said.

He called for a balanced approach for the industry. "Ang simpleng hiling lang natin ay ang diskusion sa industria patungkol sana sa economic rights ng mga magsasaka, at hindi lang yung health aspect," he said.

While he acknowledged the effort of some government agencies for the abolition of the tobacco production in their effort to curb smoking in the country, he agreed that "hindi naman nagiging illegal o krimen ang paninigarilio o pagtatabako."

USec Serrano considers tobacco production as a very important pillar in the country's culture, particularly the people in Ilocos, where the tobacco and the industry have become the hallmark of the northern provinces.

NAFTAC President Mario E. Cabasal commended USec Serrano for his stand on the tobacco industry. "This has inspired us to go on with our farming venture and hope for a better harvest and better future of our farmers, their families, and communities," he said.

ULPI President Winston P. Uy, in his message, urged industry leaders to work together to create a new future for the tobacco industry in which "we create a higher standard of the best practices."

"We hope that one day we will have a tobacco industry where people can really say dapat gayahin ninyo ang tobacco industry for all the good things it brings to the country," said Uy.

He urged stakeholders to provide more livelihood to the farmers, giving more justice for the use of tobacco, as he called for a proper roadmap for the industry that is market-driven and will lead to a better future for the tobacco farmers.

Roman Militsyn, President of PMFTC, in his message read by Christine Dela Cruz, Manager of Sustainability and Contributions, also expressed the continuous support of the private sector to the different programs and projects of the agency, such as the improvement of the quality of tobacco, drip irrigation/fertigation for areas with enough ground water sources and small water impounding projects for areas with none or minimal water source, robust NTRM elimination program to reduce crop rejection rate, and standard curing barn for flue cured tobacco.

"Today the industry is facing so many challenges, both local and international; locally we have regulatory and fiscal challenges, as well as illicit trade and reputational. The country now also has to start figuring out the impact that the ASEAN integration will have on the general agriculture sector," Militsyn said.

He is hopeful that under the stewardship and leadership of Secretary Piñol and Administrator Seares, the local tobacco industry will weather the storms and prosper.

Employees’ Day and Fellowship Night

The 30th Anniversary program was preceded by day-long Employees' Fun Day, highlighted by a Zumba, Bingo and Parlor Games, and Thanksgiving Mass officiated by Rev. Fr. Alfredo A. Sabado, SVD, at the NTA Quadrangle.

Fellowship night, hosted by Neyo E. Valdez and Marissa J. Alvero, followed after the culminating program and TGY awards.

As highlights of the fellowship night, the agency handed out special recognition to 20 retirees for 2017, a certificate plus cash bonus to 126 employees who have served for at least 30 years in government service with the tobacco industry (see related story on page 5), and cash prizes for the winners of the different sports events spearheaded by the NTA Employees Association.

Leah C. Fiesta, Secretary I of the Corporate Planning Department, bested nine other contestants to win the Grand Champion of the first "NTA Got Talents," a talent competition among different departments and branch offices. The Selected Dancers of the Regulation Department and the Dance Duo of Ma. Mercedes M. Ayco and Nelly G. Alba, both TPRO III of the Farm Technology and Services Department, based in Mindanao, were second and third place winners, respectively.

Adjudged Best Dressed during the night were Administrative Department Manager Dr. Cristina C. Lopez and Atty. Verzosa. Best Dancers, selected by the Dance Instructors during dance numbers with the live band, were Ms. Sesy Guzman Seares, wife of Administrator Seares, and Elarde M. Marzan, Reproduction Machine Operator II of the Administrative Department.

Celebrations at the Branch Offices

The Provincial Branch Offices also had their own celebrations of the 30th Anniversary. The Abra Branch employees had a lunch picnic at Villa Francisco in Lagangilang, Abra on August 15.

According to Branch Manager Esmeralda G. Valera, the staff had a chance to relax and bond with each other, and a chance to build a stronger camaraderie among them, and to withstand all the challenges of the tobacco industry while serving the tobacco farmers.

The Candon Branch held their celebrations at the conference room of the Branch Office in Candon City. Highlights of the celebration were mass, parlor games, sumptuous lunch, and a simple tribute program to the retirees Benson B. Cariño and Feliza D. Directo, both Senior TPRO, Renato C. Aquino, Supervising TPRO, and awarding of certificates to those who have served government service for at least 30 years.

The La Union Branch also held their celebration at the Branch Office in Bauang, La Union on July 25, or three days earlier than the culminating program at the Central Office. The employees attended the mass to start the celebration, marked with fun-filled games, talent presentations, and had a relaxing time with free body massage service by the International Spiritual Material Therapeutic and Massage Training Center and manicure and pedicure services by Corazon C. Ortega Skills Training Center for Woman, Inc. Both training centers are accredited by TESDA.

The Vigan Branch had their fun-filled celebration at the Terraza de Niño Resort, in Bantay, Ilocos Sur. One of the highlights was a simple tribute program for retiree Antonia A. Lopez, Computer Operator II of Vigan Branch who has served for 40 years.

According to Branch Manager Minerva P. Mizal, the employees celebrated "pearls of wisdom" they gained through years of hardwork, patience, dedication, and commitment to their jobs.

The Ilocos Norte Branch and Isabela Branch employees had their separate celebrations at a beach in Brgy. Gabut Sur, Badoc, Ilocos Norte on August 11, and at Villa Mercedes, Brgy. Namnama, Ilagan City on August 2, respectively. (with reports from Candido I. Liangao, Divina D. Pagdilao, and Marife P. Peralta)