Senate oks bill on free irrigation service to small farmers

The Senate today passed on third and final reading a bill that would exempt small farmers from paying irrigation services in a bid to increase income, hasten productivity and reduce production costs in farms nationwide.

Senator Cynthia Villar, sponsor of Senate Bill No. 1465 also known as the “Free Irrigation Service to Small Farmers Act of 2017”, said “there is a need to make free irrigation a policy, and institutionalize it to make it more permanent.”

“The National Irrigation Authority was allotted P38.4 billion in this year’s national budget and the P 2 billion will cover operating expenses of the National Irrigation Authority where the irrigation fees or ISF collected from farmers, but that is only for the current year.” Villar said.

“Filipino farmers and fisherfolk are still among the poorest in the country and freeing farmers from the burden of paying irrigation service fees will significantly reduce production cost, hasten productivity and increase the income of farmers because farmers and fisherfolk comprise 40% of Filipinos below the poverty line,” Villar added.

Other senators who also expressed support for the bill include Senate President Pro-tempore Ralph Recto along with Senators Loren Legarda, JV Ejercito, Richard Gordon, Grace Poe and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

According to the bill, all small farmers are “exempted from paying irrigation service fees (ISF) for water derived from national irrigation systems (NIS) and communal irrigation systems (CIS) that were funded, constructed, maintained and administered by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and other government agencies.”

Farmers who own more than five hectares of land, corporate farms and plantations would continue to pay irrigation service fees.

“All unpaid irrigation service fees and the corresponding penalties of small farmers to NIA and all loans, past due accounts and the corresponding interests and penalties of irrigators associations to NIA are hereby condoned and written off from the books of NIA,” the bill added.

The bill would also mandate the national government to provide equivalent funds for the operation and maintenance of the CISs replacing the irrigation fees that would be no longer billed from small farmers.

The bill also said that in addition to funds provided by the national government, the unpaid irrigation service fees of farmers with more than five hectares of land, and service fees from non-exempt farmers and other persons, natural or juridical, drawing water from agricultural and non-agricultural purposes, or using CISs as drainage facilities, “shall be collected, retained and used by irrigators associations to operate, maintain and repair their respective CISs.”

The bill also sought to revoke the corporate status of the NIA, and would make it a line agency of the Department of Agriculture. However, the bill said that the office would “continue to perform its mandates, power and functions relevant to planning, development, construction, operation, improvement, repair and maintenance of irrigation systems.”

Villar said that she believes the measure would help push the growth and development of the agriculture sector as well as help our country achieve its food security goals.

“As we work on breaking down those barriers, we also have to take care of helping them in their daily burdens and concerns such as irrigation fees,” Villar concluded.

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