Agri chief seeks P4B additional funds for NIA

MANILA, Philippines – Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has requested an additional P4-billion budget for the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) in 2017, to sustain President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise to provide free irrigation to farmers.

Piñol made the appeal to the House committee on appropriations during the Department of Agriculture’s budget hearing on Thursday, August 25.

He said the P4 billion will cover foregone revenues once the irrigation services fee (ISF) is abolished.

“It was not included in the budget of the [NIA] even when [free irrigation] was declared by the President,” Piñol told lawmakers. 

“If the appropriation committee will endorse this [proposal], we will be able to realize our commitment to free irrigation for farmers in 2017,” he said.

The NIA is a government-owned and -controlled corporation under the Office of the President. Piñol wants it to be placed under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture.

Piñol and Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr, who heads the poverty agencies cluster under the OP, both propose to amend the NIA charter to sustain free irrigation.

“It is [the DA’s] recommendation that the charter of NIA be revisited and be reverted back to being a service agency, rather than a corporate agency, which is actually for making money,” Piñol said.

Evasco, who also attended Thursday’s budget hearing, said that he will ask Duterte to place the NIA under DA because it is “so important in the rice self-sufficiency program.” 

Budget allocation

The NIA has a proposed budget of P36.35 billion for 2017, 11.04% higher than its 2016 budget. 

Undersecretary Nena Valdez of the Office the Cabinet Secretary said that the increase in the budget will be used for general administration expenses, payment of obligations, and procurement of equipment to keep up with the provision of irrigation systems.

Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago, meanwhile, questioned the high budget allocated for Metro Manila compared to its regional offices. 

Under the budget proposal, P15.75 billion is to be alloted to Metro Manila while there is only P3.8 billion for Luzon where a bulk of agricultural lands are located, including Nueva Ecija, considered as the rice granary of the Philippines.

NIA Administrator Florencio Padernal explained that the national office, located in Quezon City, receives the bulk of the budget that will be distributed to projects based in areas in the province.

“It is a misnomer to say that we have projects in NCR. That’s only for administration but the budget is for projects nationwide. These are also for salaries and wages for employees in Metro Manila,” he clarified in a mix of English and Filipino.

Filling irrigation gap

Currently, there are only 1.7 million hectares of lands with irrigation services out of the targeted 3 million hectares. 

Padernal said the NIA is targeting to fill in 75% of the 1.3 million-hectare gap in 10 years.

But Piñol clarified that out of 1.7 million hectares, only 1.3 million are able to effectively distribute water to farmlands. The remaining 400,000 hectares are areas without water, which the NIA “needs to repair right away.”

Asked about their interventions to fix this, Piñol said the DA is working with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). 

“We are coming up with a program called 'Bantay Kagubatan.' We are using the satellite mapping of the [Department of Science and Technology],  Project NOAH. We identify watershed areas, how critical these are, and we advise DENR to concentrate reforestation in the areas. DA [will aid] the farmers involved in the reforestation areas,” he said.

The DA is also proposing to build catch basins to impound water during the heavy rains. – Rappler.com

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.

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