Business & Economy

Free irrigation among Duterte’s ‘top achievements’ in first 100 days

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Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol Wednesday, Oct. 5, touted the “historic” feat of providing free irrigation to farmers among the Duterte administration’s biggest achievements in its first 100 days.

However, the promise is still months away as laws that would enable farmers free access to water for their crops are still pending in Congress.

Piñol said Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee, had expressed commitment to include in the General Appropriations Act of 2017 a provision for a P4-billion budget to cover free irrigation.

He meant that such amount would replace the National Irrigation Administration’s irrigation service fee (ISF), the collection of which had to be stopped to make irrigation support free. To stop collection, another law needs to be amended or superseded.

“What more do you want when the chair of the finance committee, which has the final say on the national budget, has made the commitment?” Piñol asked.

Formerly the irrigation division of what was the Department of Public Works, the NIA was created through Republic Act No. 3601 of 1963, which was amended through presidential decrees passed in 1974 and 1980.

Data from the NIA showed that the agency collected P1.8 billion to P2 billion in irrigation service fees yearly.

The ISF is primarily used to fund operations and maintenance expenses. It is also the major source of salaries and allowances of employees working at NIA units that run irrigation systems.

Piñol earlier said a proposed law amending the NIA charter was being prepared.

“This will be the first time in the history of Philippine agriculture when irrigation water will be provided free for the Filipino rice farmers,” Piñol said Wednesday. “Many presidents have tried to do this, but no one succeeded until now.”

The agriculture chief said collection of the ISF has been very poor over the years, with unpaid fees having accumulated to P13 billion.

He said the payment of the irrigation fees had seriously affected the profitability of rice farming in the country as the cost of water services accounted for an estimated P3 for every kilo of palay produced.

The government buys palay at P17 a kilo.

The Filipino Express

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