C. Luzon farmers press NIA for free irrigation
Drought-hit farmers in Central Luzon trooped to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) office in Quezon City asking for free irrigation to offset the dry spell felt across the region as a result of the El Niño phenomenon.
More than 200 farmers, who come from Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Bataan and Pampanga province came to the NIA office on Thursday, Jan. 21, to protest the P4,500 irrigation service fee they are paying per hectare a year even though their areas do not get the water supply they need, according to Joseph Canlas, of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL).
In a Philippine Daily Inquirer report, Canlas said it is only fitting that the government “give them free irrigation and condone unpaid ISF accounts” as the drought has severely affected farmers’ income and damaged their crops.
ISF, which is used to shoulder the operation and maintenance costs of the country’s irrigation facilities, is computed based on the number of cavans harvested that is multiplied with 50 kilograms per cavan at the prevailing price set by the National Food Authority (NFA).
Progressive lawmakers and farmers’ groups have long called for its abolition as farmers are required to pay an average of P4,500 or equivalent of 5 cavans of palay per hectare annually even if their farmlands are not yet fully irrigated.
On top of that, farmers who obtain water from reservoirs like the Pantabangan Dam in Nueva Ecija are charged with higher fees equivalent to the price of 2.5 cavans on wet months and 3.5 cavans on dry months.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chair Rafael Mariano backed AMGL’s call saying it is high time government provides free irrigation to safeguard the welfare of Filipino farmers, agricultural development, rice self-sufficiency, and the country’s food security.
Mariano noted that 80 percent of NIA’s collectibles consist of unpaid accounts. He also called the accomplishment being flaunted by the agency in its partial accomplishment report as of December 2015 “highly questionable and anomalous.”
He said that based on NIA’s report, it had finished only 1,905 hectares of new irrigation systems out of its annual target of 7,502 hectares and restored 8,609 hectares of irrigation systems out of 24,541 hectares target.
The figures, he said, are debatable since NIA’s annual budget increased in the past two years having an approved budget of P2.4-billion and P28.7-billion in 2014 and 2015 respectively. This year, the NIA’s budget is at P32.7-billion.
But NIA Central Luzon director Florentino David responded that the agency has no authority to remove irrigation tariffs, as it is part of its mandate under Presidential Decree No. 552, issued by former President Ferdinand Marcos. (Ched Romulo)