Duterte promise: Free water only for small farms, NIA says
DAGUPAN CITY — Irrigation water will not be free for all farmers after all, despite an election campaign promise made by President Duterte.
A recent congressional bicameral committee conference to tackle a free irrigation measure resolved that only farmers growing food on 8 hectares of land or less would be entitled to free irrigation from the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) Administrator Ricardo Visaya said during a meeting with farmers and members of irrigators’ associations in Pangasinan province last week.
Farmers tilling even a fraction more than 8 ha must pay irrigation fees required to keep irrigation systems running, he said.
A bill pending at the House of Representatives seeks to give all farmers, regardless of the size of their fields, free water. The Senate version of the bill seeks to grant free irrigation to farms measuring 5 ha and below.
In Pangasinan, farmers have paid irrigation fees of up to P2,400 for every hectare, the equivalent price of five cavans of palay.
Visaya said the NIA would maintain the irrigation canals. The agency has a P40-billion budget next year or an increase of P2 billion compared to NIA’s 2017 budget.
The average landholding of farmers in the Ilocos region is a hectare, according to Oftociano Manalo, president of the Federation of Irrigators’ Associations in the region. Pangasinan is part of the Ilocos region.
A major rice producing province, Pangasinan has 185,000 ha of farms, according to Dalisay Moya, acting provincial agriculturist.
“The main concern is water,” Visaya said, adding that NIA is studying whether it can interconnect irrigation canals of different dams so that other dams can be used to irrigate farms affected by drought.
The NIA is open to using more dams for power generation which, he said, would benefit the government, businesses and communities.
“There are still communities which are not reached by power and using dams for power generation will greatly benefit them,” he said.—YOLANDA SOTELO
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