Game-changer for Iloilo
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2019 - 12:00am

There’s a lot of speculative fear that the importation of cheaper rice, even with steep tariff walls, will only harm our rice farmers. Fortunately, not everyone thinks this way.

In Iloilo yesterday, the P11.2-billion Jalaur River Multi-purpose Project Phase II (JRMP II) broke ground with Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, a true son of Iloilo, laying the time capsule during the ceremony.

It was a long-awaited event, one that Sen. Drilon admits did not come easy. Negotiating with the Korean government for funding in 2012 was the easy part, he said. Over the next eight years, getting the permits to construct the project was “blood, sweat, and tears.”

Together with the National Irrigation Authority, the good senator had to personally defend the project in the Court of Appeals when a petition for a Writ of Kalikasan was filed.

During his term as Senate president, Drilon says, he even had to beg the National Commission on Indigenous People to issue the Free Prior Informed Consent needed for the construction of the dam to commence.

All these, however, plus many other roadblocks encountered, can now be put behind. Drilon is looking forward to 2022 when this flagship project of the National Irrigation Authority in the Visayas will be completed.

Year-round irrigation

At a glance, JRMP II will provide year-round irrigation to some 32,000 hectares of farm lots in 22 municipalities and cities in Iloilo, improve the lives of 25,000 farmers, double Iloilo’s rice production to nearly 300,000 metric tons per year, provide some 87,000 cubic meters of potable water daily, as well as 6.8 MW of electric power.

Hopefully, Drilon says, the province of Iloilo and the whole of Western Visayas will once again become the country’s rice granary, capable of significantly contributing to the country’s rice production target of 7.6 percent.

As a multi-purpose project and the first large-scale reservoir dam outside of Luzon, JRMP II will provide other benefits such as flood mitigation and control, the promotion of eco-tourism in selected reservoir areas, and approximately 17,000 local jobs equivalent to P1.3 billion in basic wages per year during the construction phase.

Arresting agricultural output decline

For Drilon, JRMP II will help to arrest the decline in Iloilo and Western Visayas’ agricultural output, spur the local economy, increase employment opportunities, and in the process contribute to the development of Region 6.

Since 2011, the region’s agricultural productivity had deteriorated dramatically. From an impressive 17.9 percent growth, agriculture had swung to a negative growth rate of 1.8 percent in 2015, further contracting by 0.5 percent in 2016.

This was a cause of alarm because 40 percent of the region’s labor force is engaged in agriculture and fisheries. Since agriculture is the second biggest contributor to the domestic output of Western Visayas next to services, a decline in agricultural employment increases poverty incidence.

Thus, according to Drilon, investing in agriculture can help improve the lives of those who work in the industry. Infrastructure projects in agriculture have the capacity to augment production and stimulate agri-industrial activities, not only in Western Visayas, but throughout the country.

Role of infrastructure

Last year, the country’s gross domestic product grew by only 6.2 percent, lower than the 6.7 percent growth in 2017. The government’s economic managers had pointed to the decline in the agriculture sector as among the reasons for the slowdown.

The agriculture sector’s share to GDP continues on a downward trend. From a share of 9.6 percent in 2011, it dropped to only 6.8 percent in 2018, growing by only 0.8 percent.

This is because the country lacks agriculture infrastructure that can support farmers, said Drilon. It cannot be denied that poor agriculture infrastructure has stymied the growth of the agriculture sector, he emphasized.

“I hope that the administration would really prioritize the construction of agricultural facilities similar to Jalaur in its Build Build Build program,” said Drilon. “Only then will we be able to move closer to our goal of rice self-sufficiency, improve our overall agricultural production, and ultimately bring development to rural areas, while helping address problems of poverty and food security,” he said.

Proud son

Since 2011, Drilon, with other like-minded Ilongos, has been working to transform Iloilo from a province and a city of diminishing economic appeal, to an attractive tourism and investment destination.

Aside from bringing the JRMP II project to construction stage, the good senator proudly talks about how they had cleaned and rehabilitated the dying Iloilo River, removed illegal commercial establishments, resettled informal settlers in low-cost housing units, and built an esplanade that is now a prime tourist destination.

A four-lane diversion road was widened into a 10-lane avenue, and four-lane circumferential roads in the Municipality of Pavia and around the city were built. These attracted hundreds of new commercial and industry establishments.

The Iloilo International Airport was completed from an $80 million official development assistance (ODA) loan from Japan. For the JRMP II, Drilon was able to secure P8.95-million in ODA financing from the Korean Export-Import Bank’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund, with the Philippine government putting up a counterpart fund of P2.2 billion.

As the biggest loan extended by the Korean government for a single project worldwide, Drilon is particularly proud that the loan agreement, executed in 2012, carried only an interest rate of 0.15 percent.

This is truly something worth telling: that Senator Franklin L. Drilon continues to do his share in fulfilling the dreams of a better and more progressive country by working hard to achieve these aspirations.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

JALAUR RIVER MULTI-PURPOSE PROJECT PHASE II
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