A measure granting free irrigation for farmers has been filed in the Senate.
Sen. Cynthia Villar made the proposal under Senate Bill 140 or the Free Irrigation Reform and Restructuring Act of 2016, amending provisions of Republic Act 3601 prescribing the power and authority of the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) to collect Irrigation Service Fees (ISF) or other forms of charges for the use of irrigation systems.
“Given that farmers are among the country’s poorest, the present system where farmers who could not pay are deprived of irrigation services is unfair. Their income is already small and ISF is an added expense that we should remove. We should instead put up a system where farmers are empowered to manage irrigation facilities,” Villar said in a statement.
She added that in the wake of typhoons and droughts that devastate farmlands, free irrigation is the right step to revive the agriculture sector.
Under Villar’s bill, NIA will be renamed as National Irrigation Development Administration (NIDA) and converted from a government corporation into a line agency under the Department of Agriculture (DA).
The existing NIA Board of Directors will then be replaced by the Irrigation Planning and Advisory Board which will investigate, study and develop all available water resources in the country, primarily for irrigation purposes; monitor and evaluate NIDA’s reports on the state of irrigation in various regions of the country for all major crop commodities in each region; and oversee, in cooperation with the Commission on Audit, the inventory of all NIA irrigation assets.
Small communal irrigation systems, on the other hand, may be directly taken over by farmers who are able to present management and maintenance plans for the sustainability of irrigation projects.
“If we free farmers from paying this unnecessary cost in production, agricultural products will be sold at lower prices. This will also level the playing field for Filipino farmers with the farmers of Thailand and Vietnam who are heavily subsidized by their governments,” Villar, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, pointed out.
The senator’s proposal was in line with Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol’s earlier assurance to provide free irrigation to farmers starting next year.