Peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) commended the Senate for coming up with pro-farmer and pro-people measures that seek to provide free irrigation services to farmers.

In a public hearing sponsored by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food today, the group took the opportunity to support the measures and to press the Senate on the urgency of legislating free irrigation.

“We express our support to the Senate bills on free irrigation as we continue to vigorously campaign for the immediate implementation and realization of free irrigation,” KMP secretary general Antonio Flores said.

“We view Senate Bills 43, 62, 122, 140 and 1199 as both a recognition and validation of the long-standing demand and clamor of farmers nationwide for free irrigation. Our years of campaigning and mass actions were not in vain,” the KMP leader said.

The peasant leader added that “providing free irrigation services would wholly benefit our farmers as well as other rural sectors and the domestic agriculture. Quality irrigation service that is part of a comprehensive and accelerated irrigation development program is important and necessary for the following: 1) increasing our productive output for rice and corn production; 2) achieving our targets for rice-self sufficiency in the long-term and 3) the overall development of the rural economy towards genuine rural and national industrialization as the end goal.”

However, the KMP wanted clarification from the Senate committee and the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) on several reports from Nueva Ecija, Cagayan Valley, Isabela and CARAGA region concerning continuous collection of irrigation service fees and the non-performance of NIA personnel of their tasks and duties out of a common notion that they will not be paid once irrigation services become free of charge.

Last February, the NIA issued Memorandum Circular no. 13 series of 2017 referred to as the Guidelines on Free Irrigation but according to reports from KMP chapters, local NIA officials in provinces stressed that they will still collect irrigation service fees and would not provide irrigation services should the farmers stop or refuse paying fees. “Actual situation on the ground may not reflect the government’s pronouncement and promise of free irrigation starting this year.”

KMP also raised concern on the recent fiasco and corruption allegation at NIA that puts into question NIA’s capability and integrity to use the people’s hard-earned tax money to provide new irrigation facilities, repair and rehabilitate existing irrigation systems and ensure free irrigation services to farmers. “NIA’s budget have consistently increased over the years, with a total budget of P44.5-billion for fiscal year 2016 and an additional P2-billion for fiscal year 2017 to cover free irrigation services. We want assurance and actual performance that the budget will go to provision of irrigation services for farmers.”

Flores said another matter of concern is the taking over Ret. Gen Ricardo Visaya as new NIA administrator. “While President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed trust and confidence in the former AFP Chief, General Visaya’s militarist background and involvement in human rights violations committed against activists, farmers and peasant leaders makes us uncomfortable and disturbed by his taking helm at NIA.”

“Nevertheless, we want to be assured that NIA would truly fulfill its mandate and abide by the government’s directive for free irrigation services starting the first cropping season of crop year 2017,” Flores concluded. ###