Free irrigation budget hiked to P5 B
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - August 13, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines -  The government is increasing the budget allocation for the free irrigation scheme to P5 billion next year to allow expansion in covered areas.

The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) said the approved budget for free irrigation for 2018 was more than double the P2 billion allocation this year.

“The Congress approved our proposal of P5 billion for free irrigation. We will be covering the communal irrigation systems which were not included in this year’s budget,” NIA spokesperson Pilipina Bermudez told The STAR.

“It will also cover the amortization of the communal, including operations, our salaries, and MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses),” she said.

Last June, the Senate passed on third and final reading Senate Bill 1465 or the proposed Free Irrigation Service to Small Farmers Act that will institutionalize and exempt small farmers from paying irrigation fees.

Despite the increase in free irrigation subsidy, the overall budget of NIA for 2018 has been slashed to P40 billion from its P48 billion proposal

However, this is still four percent higher than the P38.3 billion allocation this year.

“They said that the slashed budget will be used as general assistance for the rehabilitation in Marawi City,” Bermudez said.

“We will adjust our priority projects. But bulk of the budget will still be allocated for the construction of new projects, as well as for rehabilitation,” she added.

The NIA has been targeting at least a 20 percent increase in budget per year as part of its efforts to finish all the irrigable areas by 2022 in time for the end of the President’s term.

The Philippines has an estimated irrigable area of 3.12 million hectares of agricultural lands, while NIA has so far developed 1.85 million hectares or about 59 percent of the total.

This year, NIA is set to develop 23,115 hectares of new areas and restore 13,507 hectares.

By the end of the administration, the agency targets to fully complete the remaining 41 percent of the country’s agricultural lands.

Meanwhile, the NIA will still study whether it will propose additional increase for the free irrigation subsidy in the succeeding years or stick to the P5 billion allocation.

While free irrigation has officially commenced during the second quarter, NIA has already stopped the collection since January.

The agency needs to seek continuous subsidy to sustain the free irrigation scheme since the NIA charter has yet to be amended.

NIA cited the pending bills in Congress that seek to totally remove the ISF (irrigation service fees) collection to institutionalize free irrigation.

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

NIA’s collections fell five percent to P1.5 billion last year as a direct impact of early pronouncement of scrapped ISF.

As stated in the No ISF policy, all back accounts or unpaid ISF, amortization and equity payments before January 2017 remain as liabilities of farmers and irrigator associations.


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