Free irrigation pushes through

Louise Maureen Simeon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The government’s commitment to provide farmers free irrigation starting next year will push through after the Senate guaranteed the approval of the P4-billion additional funding for the program.

“The Senate finance committee already said that P4 billion will be included in the 2017 GAA (General Appropriations Act),” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said.

The additional P4-billion budget for 2017 will cover the irrigation service fees (ISF) and would allow the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) to stop depending on collections for the salaries of its officials and employees and for its operations.

“It is a policy statement of the President and it’s just a matter of implementation, as long as there is available fund. The P4 billion is intended to subsidize the salaries of employees of the NIA, what purpose would the collection (of ISF) be?” Piñol said.

Under the law, NIA is required to collect ISF which amounts to about P2 billion annually for employees’ salaries and allowances, as well as funding for operations and maintenance of existing irrigation systems.

The NIA earlier suggested a budget of P36.8 billion for 2017 and with the approved additional funding, the agency’s allocation would amount to P40.8 billion.

Piñol emphasized that the Senate Finance Committee headed by Sen. Loren Legarda has cleared doubts after it declared support to free irrigation for the country’s 2.5 million rice farming families.

Piñol and the NIA earlier clashed with the pronouncement after the agri chief said NIA officials are attempting to hold back the free irrigation program.

The NIA, on the other hand, debunked Pinol’s claims and reiterated it is not against the free irrigation program of the government.

“The payment of the irrigation fees has seriously affected the profitability of rice farming in the country as the cost of water services is estimated at P3 for every kilo of palay produced. In contrast, irrigation is free in Vietnam and Thailand. Both are rice exporting countries and major suppliers of the Philippines rice requirements,” Piñol said.

Meanwhile, NIA’s return to the umbrella of the Department of Agriculture remains hanging as no formal executive order has been issued.

Last month, Piñol disclosed that NIA is likely to be reverted back to the department within the year after President Duterte and Secretary to the Cabinet Leoncio Evasco Jr. agreed to return the agency under the umbrella of the DA.

“This was the agreement that we made but I just have to wait for the action of the Malacañang on this,” he said.

“While there was already an agreement that NIA would be brought back to the DA, I don’t have the power to really pursue that except to hold on to that commitment,” Piñol added.

Recently, the NIA and 11 other agencies were moved to the Office of the President under Evasco via EO 1.


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