Farmers will have to wait at least two more years before President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign promise for “free irrigation” became a reality, the Office of the Cabinet Secretary said on Monday, saying that it will have to continue with the collection of irrigation service fees (ISF) to maintain and operate irrigation facilities nationwide.
In an interview on the sidelines of the National Food Authority’s 44th anniversary celebration, Atty. Maia Chiara Halmen Reina Valdez, undersecretary for the Office of the Cabinet Assistance System, said that they have directed the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) to observe the status quo pending a clearer policy from the government’s economic managers.
“There a huge clamor, or should I say news, to scrap the collection of irrigation service fees. However, we are mandated by law to collect ISF,” Valdez said.
“Right now, the Department of Budget and Management has yet to download money to NIA to cover the P4 billion ISF collection for next year. If we will not collect, what will we use to maintain and operate the different irrigation systems at least through 2017,” she added.
Pursuant to Republic Act 3601, Section 2, Paragraph C, NIA has the authority to collect from the users of each irrigation system constructed by it such fees as may be necessary to finance the continuous operation of the system.
This authority was strengthened by PD 552 and 1701.
NIA is a government-owned and controlled corporation primarily responsible for irrigation development and management of completed irrigation systems in the country, and as such, the agency has to address its operational expenses through internally generated funds from various sources primarily from Irrigation Service Fee. This will ensure operability of irrigation systems that would provide irrigation services to farmers.
The ISF being collected is used primarily for operation and maintenance of irrigation facilities nationwide and to finance the compensation of all NIA workers.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol earlier he expect the complete rollout of free irrigation services by 2017, citing massive support from lawmakers.
To realize the president’s commitment, Piñol said that they will provide an additional P4 billion funding to the NIA in the 2017 National Budget so that it will no longer depend on the collections from irrigation fees of farmers for the salaries of its officials and employees and for its operations.
The DA chief is also pushing for the amendment of the NIA charter so that it will be reverted back to its old status as a line agency under the Department of Agriculture instead of being a quasi-government owned corporation.
But the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, who heads the poverty agencies cluster under the Office of the President, said that such decision should emanate from economic managers.
“There is still no clear policy on that,” Valdez said, when asked whether the amendment of NIA’s charter would push through by next year.
Earlier, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco said he would propose the abolition of at least three national agencies (including NIA, the National Food Authority and the National Eelctrification Administration) to President Rodrigo Duterte, all of which are now under his office.