Irrigation officials and employees got a dose of President Aquino’s reputation for testiness at official events during the 50th anniversary celebration of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) in Diliman, Quezon City, on Tuesday.
NIA personnel, led by Administrator Antonio Nangel, who were gathered to hear their honored guest speak, must have gotten the surprise of their lives when a stern-looking Aquino started scolding them for continually failing to meet their targets year after year.
“We’ve been together in this administration for the last three years, and it seems you know me—I don’t have time to fool around. Let me be honest with you: I am dismayed because until now it shows that there have been few changes in the National Irrigation Administration,” he said.
He put Nangel on notice that he would be checking up on the latter’s many “palusot” (excuses) and unfulfilled promises.
The President as much as said that the occasion did not call for celebration as many farmlands across the country continued to suffer from low productivity due to lack of irrigation facilities.
It was a different story last week when Aquino went to the Department of Public Works and Highways for the department, which has a history of corruption, during its 115th founding anniversary.
To show his satisfaction with the DPWH, he gave public works personnel an anniversary bonus of P10,000 each for their hard work, efficiency, cost-effective and timely services, and adherence to his “straight path” mantra of public service.
Earlier Tuesday, the President also visited the Department of Health (DOH) to preside over the groundbreaking of its new medical center complex.
In a brief speech, Aquino extended his appreciation for the health services the department was delivering to the public. He even complimented the agency, saying it was the administration’s barometer and “proof” that “its mandate to the people” was being fulfilled.
Hours later, he went to the NIA to deliver a different message.
Aquino appointed Nangel to the NIA, a government-owned and -controlled corporation that is primarily responsible for developing and managing irrigation systems in the country.
Addressing Nangel as “engineer,” he began his speech by seeking the indulgence of his audience as he said he would not beat around the bush.
The audience, composed of NIA employees, farmers and other irrigation stakeholders heartily applauded.
But what he said next was not music to their ears.
Expressing his frustrations over the NIA’s lackluster performance, Aquino said he felt that “with what’s happening at NIA, you yourselves are inviting me to monitor you closely.”
“I was elected by the people to watch over the state of every institution of government. But I’m just human, not a CCTV camera that can monitor (government agencies’) actions for 24 hours,” he said.
According to the President, those who knew him well knew that “excuses or alibis don’t (fool) me. So if we have talked already, and you promised something, I don’t expect you to go back on your word.”
To give an example of the NIA’s history of failures and inefficiencies, he cited the “long-pending” irrigation reservoir in his Tarlac hometown.
The Balog-Balog dam project in Tarlac province was conceived during the first Aquino presidency, with the Italian government expressing its willingness to fund it at the time.
The dam was deemed to be the answer to the destruction caused by an earthquake and the Mt. Pinatubo eruption on the irrigation canals in Tarlac in 1990 and 1991.
The project was declared as “not economically feasible” by then President Fidel Ramos, but was partially pursued by the administration of deposed President Joseph Estrada.
According to Aquino, his predecessor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had told him: “Consider it done.”
“I am now (the President), we have yet to have a groundbreaking activity for this project” 21 years after it was first planned, he said.
Aquino said the irrigation project was important as his Tarlac constituents relied heavily on rainwater.
He said a private proponent had come forward to construct the dam, which would have flood control, irrigation and power generation components, and “at very minimal expense to the government.”
According to the NIA website, the dam, dubbed the “Balog-Balog Multipurpose Project,” was envisioned to provide irrigation to 39,150 hectares of farmlands in the Tarlac towns of Concepcion, Gerona, Pura, Ramos, Paniqui, La Paz and Victoria, and the city of Tarlac.
It was also supposed to mitigate flooding in low-lying areas and provide upland communities with the opportunity to pursue inland fish production on the dam’s 2,004-ha reservoir.
The President explained that irrigation would drastically increase rice (palay) yields in his home province and other areas of Central Luzon as it would increase the current once-a-year “harvest cycle” to five over a period of two years, or 7 1/2 harvest cycles over a three-year period.
A major feature of the project is a 113-meter-high earth and rockfill dam with a storage capacity of about 625 million cubic meters.
The main dam is located in San Jose town, some 48 kilometers west of Tarlac City.
‘Rice turned to stone’
The President likened the failure to construct and finish the dam to “rice turned to stone.”
“How many administrations have passed? Until now, the project hasn’t moved,” he said.
“Three years into my term, but until now, it seems that it’s not happening,” he added.
He complained that he would be hard-pressed to explain this to his provincemates in 2016, the end of his term, as he himself “couldn’t understand why nothing came out of” the dam project.
“What would you like to tell the people when they ask (me), ‘Where’s your promises? So, Administrator Nangel, help me prove to them that I can do this,” said Aquino, who served as the representative of the second district of Tarlac whose residents are mainly farmers.
Just do it
He told his NIA audience that he was looking forward to a “groundbreaking” of the dam upon his retirement three years from now.
“The question is simple: Is this project worth it to be funded by government? Would this be beneficial to the people? If the answer is yes, then let’s go ahead and do it. Isn’t that so?” he asked, again eliciting applause.
But if it fails in its specifications to qualify as a government project, “then let’s put a stop to this and let’s not give our countrymen false hopes,” he said.
He said he entered government to institute reforms and defeat corruption, “but despite the changes sweeping many agencies, there are those who have yet to learn, remaining mired in the old graft-ridden system and lack of accountability.”
While many public servants have become accountable for their actions, “there are still personnel and leaders who remain hardheaded, and treat being part of government as a free ticket to unduly gain advantage” over others, Aquino said.
Aquino reminded the NIA that its primary duty was to manage and improve the irrigation systems in the country.
Noting the agency’s accomplishment rate, he said that from 2001 through 2009, not once did the irrigation office accomplish its own annual targets regarding new areas for irrigation.
In 2005, the NIA targeted 18,883 hectares to be irrigated but only 56 percent, or 10,539 ha, were covered.
In 2006, only 40 percent, or 8,989 ha, were irrigated compared to the target of 22,639 ha.
In sum, only 66 percent of the accomplishment rate of NIA has been met over the period, the President said.
Originally posted: 8:55 pm | Tuesday, June 25th, 2013