By Genalyn D. Kabiling
President Duterte has signed a landmark law providing free irrigation service to small farmers in the country.
Under Republic Act No. 10969, a farmer with landholdings of eight hectares and below are exempted from paying irrigation service fees for water derived from both national and communal irrigation systems.
The law, also known as Free Irrigation Service Act, has also condoned loans and past due accounts of these small farmers and irrigators associations (IAs) to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
“The State shall also ensure that vital support services are made available, particularly irrigation service, through the continued construction, repair and maintenance of necessary irrigation facilities, to increase production of agricultural crops, encourage productivity, and increase the incomes of farmers,” the law read.
“Towards this end, the State affirms its commitment to contribute to the lowering of the cost of production through the provision of free irrigation service, and further relieve the farmers and their irrigators associations from the burden and consequence of unpaid irrigation service fees,” it added.
RA 10969 also stated the NIA would continue to develop, operate and maintain national irrigation systems. It however may delegate the operation and maintenance of secondary and tertiary canals and farm ditches to capable irrigator groups.
The communal irrigation systems will still be operated and maintained by irrigators associations.
In lieu of the irrigation fees billed from exempt farmers, the law also mandates the national government to provide equivalent funds for the operation and maintenance of communal irrigation systems operated by irrigators associations.
The NIA has also been directed to issue guidelines on the collection and use of ISF of those not exempted from the law. Technical assistance will also be provided to irrigators associations on the operations of communal irrigation systems and farm enterprises management.
The law, signed last February 2 by the President, takes effect 15 days after publication in the Official Gazette or in two newspapers.
Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito welcomed the President’s signing of the new law, saying he sees the income of poor Filipino farmers increasing and their economic condition improving.
“This is surely one of the crucial reforms in the agricultural sector. As one of the proponents of this measure, I laud the signing of RA 10969 granting free irrigation to farmers owning not more than 8 hectares of land,” said Ejercito, who authored Senate Bill No. 1199, the “Free Irrigation Services Act of 2016.”
“Our desire is to unburden our poor farmers from paying irrigation service fees. The law condones all unpaid irrigation fees and penalties of farmers who till the same size of land,” the senator said.
In the Lower House, Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao is among the principal authors of the Free Irrigation Services Act and staunchly supported by MAKABAYAN bloc legislators who were among those who rallied the legislation to its passage.
For the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the NIA need to work “triple time” and “triply hard” in implementing it.
“The enactment of the free irrigation law is a victory of a long-fought struggle of farmers nationwide. Now we enter the next phase of the battle – to ensure the implementation of the law so that farmers and irrigators associations could really benefit from it,” says KMP Chairperson Danilo Ramos.
Ramos said the millions off farmers nationwide want to hear from DA secretary Manny Piñol, NIA administrator Ricardo Visaya and Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco on how free irrigation services would be implemented.
He said that last time KMP checked, NIA was still collecting operation and maintenance fee from farmers.” (With reports from Hannah L. Torregoza and Chito A. Chavez)