Ebasco reiterates DU30’s vow for free irrigation fees

BILAR, Bohol — Cabinet Secretary Leoncio “Jun” Evasco reiterated the promise of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) administration to relieve farmer-irrigators from cumbersome irrigation service fees (ISF) imposed by National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

This he told the audience of this town during the celebration of first “Pangani” (Harvest) festival that coincided the 105th year of then Bohol Agricultural College (BAC), now the Bohol Island State University (BISU), where he was the guest of honor.

Evasco said that NIA collected the ISF so that it could pay its workers’ salaries and other operating expenditures. He said that PRRD wanted this ISF abolished to liberate farmers from added burden and for them to be more productive.

He said as chair of the NIA board he learned that ISF was the main source of the personnel services or wages of the NIA’s workers. He said that by abolishing the ISF, the government under Duterte’s administration had included the personnel services budget in the General Appropriations Act.

Bohol hosts big irrigation facilities. These are the Bayongan Dam in San Miguel town; Malinao Dam, Pilar town; and Capayas Dam, Ubay, Bohol aside from numerous existing small water impounding projects.

Giant TV network GMA reported that “The 2017 national budget would pave the way for free irrigation services to Filipino farmers. This was pointed out by Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee, as she highlighted the Php 2-billion government subsidy on the irrigation fees, as provided under the Php 3.3-trillion national budget. Under Republic Act No. 3601, the National Irrigation Administration is authorized to collect the ISF from farmers and farmers’ associations.”

“But with the 2017 proposed national budget, which both chambers of Congress separately ratified last week, a Php 2-billion fund has been allotted to cover the ISF collected by the agency from farmers’ associations. An accompanying Special Provision for this purpose specifies that the Php 2 billion allocation will be used to cover the operating requirements of NIA and the maintenance of existing irrigation facilities which were previously funded out of the collections from ISF, said Legarda.”

It will be recalled that some farmers particularly in Malinao dam, Pilar town, still cry for help and some asked the state-run NIA to do away with the ISF imposition.

Some 1,363 farmer-landowners supposedly the beneficiaries of Malinao Dam irrigation services in Pilar and neighboring towns were reportedly still paying debts arising from “expensive” ISF but with “poor” water supply to their farms, according to documents obtained from an NGO.

Some of them have almost settled their obligations with NIA with insignificant amounts, less than a hundred pesos. But others are still reeling to pay several thousands of pesos. For instance, an account as high as Php 1,397,929.49 and the amount due the NIA still amounting to Php 69,896.47. There’s another account with only Php 1,506 and his remaining payable is only Php 75.25. Names of these accounts are, however, withheld.

Each of the beneficiaries, who belongs to a certain irrigators association, has his own account number with corresponding amount and amount due, documents bared. Names of the beneficiaries who still have pending dues were withheld temporarily.

Based on the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by the beneficiary-landowner and NIA, the irrigation is designed to service some 4,960 hectares but only 2,007 are fully developed irrigated rice paddies. The remaining 2,953 hectares remain ordinary rice paddies.

The MOA stipulates, among others, that farmer-landowner “shall pay development cost per hectare for the converted land which include cost of labor, tools and implements, equipment rental, as the case maybe.” The total cost is amortized for ten years in equal installment in 20 equal payments every crop harvest.

On its part, NIA provides financial and technical support, such as “paddy development, planning/construction, land area survey before and after land leveling,” to the farmer-landowner, the agreement provides. Other farm equipment that NIA should provide include soil scrapper, garden hoes, plows and other farm implements. But these were allegedly not met, said reliable sources.

NIA shall also pay the cost of direct labor cost and equipment rental in land leveling, said the MOA, which was signed by then former provincial NIA provincial head and the landowner.

According to the Women Development Council, a non-government organization, landowners were made to pay ISF in the amount of P1,500 per hectare or its equivalent to number of kilos of palay harvest and it was increased to Php 2,000/ha.

Because of inadequate water supply provided by NIA, “history of conflicts between farmers” erupted. In fact, “there is still pending case of women wrestling against each other in the rice paddies in barangay Cagawasan” in nearby Dagohoy town because of water conflict. PNA – northboundasia.com