No free irrigation under Duterte
Farmers from the Caraga region will face ‘Hacienda Luisita massacre ex-General’ and now National Irrigation Administration (NIA) administrator Ricardo Visaya to demand the agency to ensure free irrigation services for farmers and the waiving of unpaid back accounts of farmers and irrigators associations.
Farmers in Region XIII are burdened with high irrigation service fees (ISF) and owe millions of pesos in back accounts to NIA despite lack of irrigation and water supply in rice producing areas in the region. Caraga is the 12th top rice producer in the country and 26% of Mindanao’s rice production comes from Caraga.
“Free irrigation is a major demand of farmers. Until today, Duterte’s promise of free irrigation remain unfulfilled,” said Danilo Ramos, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. “Irrigation service is a vital and necessary support service to rice farmers. We have decided to put Gen. Visaya to the test on how he will address the issues raised to NIA.”
“Hindi totoo na libre na ang irigasyon. Pinagbabayad pa rin ng NIA ang mga magsasaka. Saan napunta ang milyun-milyong badyet ng NIA para sa libreng irigasyon?”
Caraga has 8 river irrigation systems covering 95,703-hectares irrigable areas. But according to NIA, only 47,968-hectares are with actual irrigation services. In Butuan City, farmers are paying double for irrigation services to the Lower Agusan River Pump Irrigation System (LARPIS). Irrigation systems using water pump and electricity charge between Php2,800 to Php5,000 per hectare. More farmers rely on rainwater for farmland irrigation.
Farmers from Agusan and Surigao provinces lament that despite NIA’s P38.6-B total agency for 2017, local NIA offices in Caraga continue to collect ISF even during calamities or production losses endured by farmers. When farmers fail to pay on time, the NIA will immediately cut the water supply and impose high interest rates. Worse, NIA also threatens to consficate lands of farmers who fail to pay irrigation fees. NIA in Caraga have previously figured in corruption due to unfinished irrigation systems worth Php190-million.
This and other similar situation of farmers nationwide prove that NIA is not following its own Memorandum Circular No. 13 series of 2017 or the Guidelines on Free Irrigation that indicated that irrigation service will be free of charge starting the first cropping of 2017.
Farmers fear that the multibillion NIA budget will be squandered to corruption and will not be used to provide the much-needed support services for farmers. For fiscal year 2018, NIA is requesting a budget allocation of more than P40-billion.
Farmers ask Congress to fast-track the approval of the free irrigation bill that was approved in the Senate and Lower House. ###