By Hannah Torregoza
Reelectionist Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara on Tuesday stressed the need for the government to roll out an “El Niño action plan” in food-growing areas in the country to help farmers cope with the hot and dry months ahead caused by the weather phenomenon.
Angara said the government should take a “proactive stance” as many farmers are also grappling with low prices of rice and coconut.
The senator also said the government should consider designating an “anti-El Niño czar” who will orchestrate a multiagency response to the dry spell, which is already causing farm harvest to dip.
“A man-made disaster over a natural disaster is a double whammy that will leave less food on the table for families and less income for farmers,” Angara said in a statement.
“There are threats to agriculture in multiple fronts. Government should help farmers battle the many crises they are facing,” Angara added.
The lawmaker, who is seeking another six-year term at the Senate, suggested that the government help by “flooding areas hit by drought or prone to El Niño with assistance.”
“Timely aid is one way of preventing farmers’ anger from boiling over. El Niño can also ignite dissatisfaction,” Angara said.
“ Ang init ng panahon ay nagpapataas din ng galit, (The heat also increases anger) Angara said, referring to the 2016 El Niño episode when the government “came too late, too little.”
Angara, chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and vice chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, said there are at least four sources of government funds which can be merged to fund El Niño mitigation measures.
These are the Calamity Fund, or what is officially called as the National Disaster Risk Management and Mitigation (NDRMM) Fund; the budget of agriculture agencies like the National Irrigation Administration (NIA); the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund under the recently passed Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law; and the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) funds to aid distressed families.
According to Angara, the P20-billion NDRMM fund can finance preparatory activities in anticipation of an imminent disaster, while the P36- billion NIA fund can be used for water-saving measures in government-managed irrigation systems.
He pointed out both can be implemented through a work scheme that will tap farmers as laborers, “thus providing income to people who would work on infrastructure that will benefit them.”
Another funding that can be frontloaded for El Niño mitigation, he said is the P10-billion for safety nets mandated under RA 11203.
Angara also said that under the DSWD budget for 2019 are several assistance programs that can be harnessed to shield farmers from the effects of the forecasted dry spell.