Individual farmers will soon be spared from the collection of irrigation service fees as the free irrigation program is now up for official implementation nationwide.
This came from the announcement of former Maribojoc mayor and now Cabinet Sec. LeoncioEvasco Jr. in his visit to Tacloban City last Tuesday.
Evasco, who chairs the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) Board, explained that NIA will soon stop the collection of irrigation service fees (ISF) from individual farmers.
It was clarified during the NIA board meeting on Tuesday last week in Tacloban that corporate farms such as plantations are excluded in the benefit.
During the meeting, the NIA Board approved the â€œguidelines for theÂ official implementation of free irrigation programâ€ targeted to start this year.
Following the meeting,Â NIA Administrator Peter LaviÃ±a assured that part of the agencyâ€™s P2-billion budget this year can be allocated to provide irrigation services to individual farmers for free- -that is without collecting ISF.
LaviÃ±a, however, clarified that NIA will still pursue on collecting the delinquencies incurred by some farmers â€œdespite pending bills in Congress seeking to condone outstanding accountsâ€.Â
NIAâ€™s accumulated collectibles already reached P13 billion while the government had only collected â€œless than P2 billion from irrigation service fees every year.
He explained that â€œit would be unfair for the small farmers who had already settled their accountsâ€ if they forego collection.
The collectibles refer to service fees that remained unsettled prior to the upcoming implementation of the free irrigation program.
The amount of service fee that a farmer pays is â€œequivalent to two sacks of unhusked rice per hectare in every cropping seasonâ€.
Based on the guidelines for the free irrigation program, the salaries of NIA workers previously taken from the proceeds from ISF will be charged to the additional allocation on the NIA budget.
NIA had identified 8,100 irrigators associations (IAs) in the country who will be given financial assistance for the maintenance of irrigation systems.
LaviÃ±a also explained that the IAs may opt to collect membership or maintenance fees from their members to augment the governmentâ€™s support that, at this time, is still minimal.
While the national government provides the irrigation infrastructure, the farmers have to take charge of maintaining the canals and this is to be under the concept of â€œshared responsibilityâ€.
With shared responsibility, the farmers may agree on schemes on raising funds for the maintenance of canals under the free irrigation program.
LaviÃ±a explained that this is â€œto minimize its impact to the governmentâ€™s drive for rice sufficiencyâ€.
YAP INTERVENES FOR AGRICULTURE
Meanwhile, NIA officials had earlier briefed Third District Rep. Arthur Yap- -the chair of the House of Representatives Economic Affairs Committee- -on theÂ budgetary requirement not only for free irrigation, but also for additional programs and projects.
NIA plans to repair and rehabilitate blocked irrigation channels and the construction of new irrigation all over the country, according to Yap.
He said NIA was asking for budgetary support for the free irrigation commitment of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte.
In Bohol, Yap was able to ensure that the Bohol Transbasin Irrigation Dam project which will benefit eight municipalities will be ready for Official Developmental Funding by 2018.
Yap had earlier emphasized that providing farmers withÂ free irrigation needs a comprehensive financial and construction program to ensure its efficiency and continuity.
He had discussed with LaviÃ±a and other NIA officials about the state of Philippine irrigation and the House Bill he filed in the 17thÂ Congress for the free irrigation program.
Yap pointed out that there is a need for a comprehensive financial and construction program to restore, rehabilitate, maintain and expand the current irrigated lands in the country to have sufficient water to distribute.
Considering that water infrastructures can be used for sanitation, transportation, power and irrigation, the expenses can be justified especially since the national rice import volume will also drop, he added.
Yap has prepared a bill so that the NIA can be modernized and the agency will receive sufficient funding to carry out its critical work for the farmers.
At the start of theÂ 17th Congress, Yap filed House Bill 37 entitled, â€œAn Act Establishing a Free Irrigation Program, Repealing Section 2, paragraph (c) of Republic Act No. 3601 or An Act Creating The National Irrigation Administration; Section 1, paragraph (b) of Presidential Decree No. 552; Section 1, paragraph (b) Presidential Decree No. 1702; Section 35 of Republic Act No. 8435, Otherwise Known as The Agricultural And Fisheries Modernization Lawâ€.
In House Bill 37, Yap cited that â€œthe rates of the NIA for the Irrigation Service Fees (ISF) are not very high. In fact, it is authorized to collect only up to an amount sufficient to cover the operation and maintenance of the irrigation system. It is not allowed to collect for the amounts to recover the cost of capital or the indebtedness for the construction of the irrigation projectsâ€.
â€œNevertheless, the imposition of the ISF is a huge burden for the farmer beneficiaries. It eats up on what otherwise would already be a small income for the farmer and their families. It leads farmers to further shy away from farming and engage in other endeavors,â€ he pointed out.
NIA, under its Charter, Republic Act 3601, as amended by Presidential Decree 552 and Presidential Decree 1702, as well as Republic Act 8435, or the Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization Law, has the power and authority to collect ISF.
On this, Yap proposed to amend some provisions in these laws to bail out the farmers from the burden of paying the ISF, in response also to the clamor of farmers in Bohol and other provinces.
Yap proposed that it be called the â€œFree Irrigation Law of 2016â€ where â€œall irrigation systems built, operated and maintained by NIA, the Department of Agriculture (DA), or any other government agencies, or those turned over and maintained or operated by farmersâ€™ organizations, irrigatorsâ€™ associations or Local Government Units (LGU), shall be free of use and charges for farmer beneficiariesâ€.
This will entail repeal or modification of Section 2, Paragraph (c) of RA 3601; Section 1, Paragraph (b) of PD 552; Section 1, Paragraph (b) of PD 1702; and Section 35 of RA 8435; prescribing the power and authority of NIA to collect ISF or other forms of charges for the use of irrigation systems.