Farmers bat for free irrigation services

“The government should waive payment of irrigation fees in national irrigation systems; erase all unpaid back accounts of irrigation associations, farmers in national irrigation systems; and, subsidize irrigation fees in communal irrigation systems.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Adonis Tolentino, a farmer from Hacienda Dolores, Porac, Pampanga, has to contend with the drought caused by El Nino. In March, he and fellow farmers went to the provincial office of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) in Floridablanca, Pampanga to seek assistance. They were told they would have to pay P28,000 ($598) for a water pump.

For four years, Tolentino pays one sack of rice per harvest for irrigation. With the drought, water no longer reaches his farmland.

Tolentino joined over a hundred farmers from other parts of Luzon as well as those from Visayas and Mindanao in a street conference in front of the Department of Agriculture, April 27, to demand free irrigation services.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) lamented that despite the fact that the NIA budget ballooned to P32 billion (US$683 million) this year, the government continues to collect irrigation fees. Every year, KMP said farmers pay P4,500 ($96) for every hectare of land for irrigation services.

More urgent

Rafael Mariano, KMP chairperson, said the “prolonged drought worsened the hunger suffered by farmers brought by unjust exaction like irrigation service fees, high land rent, usury and the high cost of production.”

According to Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the country’s weather bureau, a total of 32 provinces are expected to suffer drought this month.

As of March, the Department of Agriculture estimates losses due to El Nino to cost P5 billion.

AGHAM, an organization of pro-people science and technology advocates and not the partylist, said that irrigation is a major adaptation strategy to prepare communities for a long period of drought.

While the KMP welcomed that all the presidential candidates have promised free irrigation, not one has presented how to implement it.

The KMP said government should waive payment of irrigation fees in national irrigation systems; erase all unpaid back accounts of irrigation associations, farmers in national irrigation systems; and, subsidize irrigation fees in communal irrigation systems.

Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap called on the next president to prioritize House Bill 6624 that seeks to provide free irrigation services to farmers.

HB 6224 prohibits the collection of irrigation service fees (ISFs) and such other similar or related fees from beneficiaries of irrigations funded and constructed by, or under the administration of the NIA, including the collection of back accounts and the corresponding penalties. ()

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