• NIA seeks bigger budget to build more dams, irrigation systems

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    THE National Irrigation Administration (NIA) is seeking a budget of P46 billion next year, its biggest ever if approved, as it aims to triple allocation for the construction of dams and irrigation systems nationwide.

    “Right now, we want to triple the allocation for projects to fast-track the construction of dams and irrigation systems for us to irrigate all the potential agricultural areas in the country,” NIA Administrator Ricardo Visaya said in a media briefing on Wednesday during the agency’s 54th anniversary celebration.

    Visaya said they proposed a budget of about P56 billion to the Department of Budget and Management but it was later reduced by the National Economic Development Authority to P45.8 billion.

    According to the latest inventory of the agency, the Philippines has an estimated 3.12 million hectares of irrigable area. Out of this, NIA has already developed a total of 1.85 million hectares, or about 59 percent of the total irrigable area.

    “We still have about 41 percent to be developed. We want to fast-track the development of these areas, that’s why we are proposing a 19-20 percent increase in our budget every year for us to hit 100 percent by 2022, in time for the expiration of the term of President Rodrigo Duterte,” he added.

    Construction of new agricultural areas will focus on Central Luzon and the southern part of the country, particularly the Caraga region and Central Mindanao.

    NIA’s budget this year amounts to P38.4 billion, of which P25.6 billion has been allotted for programs while the remaining P12.7 billion is for projects.

    This year, the agency is set to develop some 23,115 hectares of new areas and 13,507 hectares to be restored. It also aims to repair and rehabilitate some 249 kilometers of earth canal, some 1,133 kilometers of concrete lined canal, and 3,454 canal structures.

    For 2018, Visaya said they plan to start construction of major irrigation facilities and address the backlog in the construction of big-ticket projects.

    He also said they will start constructing hydro projects in more than 300 sites within the NIA systems nationwide. Most of the potential areas identified by the agency are in the provinces of Isabela and Quirino, which is also considered a major food basket of the country.

    “Currently, we are focusing our efforts on seven hydro-projects, while some are still in the negotiation, feasibility study submission stage, agreement signing and/or implementation, pre-construction and construction stages,” he said.

    NIA already has two operational hydro-power plants – the 1 megawatt (MW) Rizal hydropower plants in Nueva Ecija and the 1-MW Bulanao mini hydropower project in Kalinga.

    Meanwhile, Visaya vowed to make good on his promise to eradicate graft and corruption within the agency, saying he plans to utilize his contacts with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to probe corruption allegations.

    “I have received many anonymous letters since I took over as NIA administrator. I’m trying to gather all the evidences, then I’ll have my moves. I was the AFP chief of staff, so I can ask them for help, especially the intelligence division,” he said, noting that he was a longtime member of the intelligence community in the military.

    Visaya also promised to institute measures aimed at improving the delivery of the agency’s services and uplifting the morale and welfare of NIA personnel.

    “We have a big problem with personnel, especially when the rationalization plan was implemented. We lost many of our people while the number of projects is increasing,” he said.

    “Another challenge we are facing is the aging equipment. We have already included the acquisition of modern equipment and machineries in our 2018 program,” he added.

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