It has been five years since the Department of Agriculture (DA) proposed to take back the jurisdiction over the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), and the agency is finally getting the support it needs from other government agencies, thanks to the fact that it no longer has the same Cabinet Secretary.
In a statement late Tuesday, the Department of Finance (DOF) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) threw their support behind the proposal to transfer NIA from the Office of the President (OP) to the DA.
“By making NIA an attached agency of the DA, we believe that both agencies will be better able to fulfill their respective mandates and deliver better outcomes for their shared benefit —the Filipino farmers,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said in an earlier memorandum for President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
For his part, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said in a letter to deputy executive secretary for general administration McJill Bryant Fernandez dated Sept. 13, 2021 that transferring the NIA to DA is consistent with the priority strategy under Chapter 8 of the Updated Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, particularly on strengthening the coordination of government agencies to ensure the complementation of plans, programs and projects to develop the agriculture sector.
“NEDA agrees with the merits raised by the DA to ensure stronger and better complementation of interventions and activities to develop the agriculture sector,” Chua further said.
The statements of DOF and NEDA came immediately after Agriculture Secretary William Dar revived DA’s proposal earlier this year.
In 2016, former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol had came up with the same proposal.
Unfortunately for Piñol, he failed to get the same support amid an apparent rift between him and the country’s economic managers — an issue that stemmed from his alleged opposition to the passage of the Rice Tariffication Law, which allowed unlimited rice importation in the country.
For his part, former NIA Administrator Peter Tiu Laviña believed back then that the final decision over this matter should be put on hold or to remain at status quo until such time that the country finally shifts from unitary to the federal form of government like what President Rodrigo Duterte wants.
“NIA is like ping pong now… being transferred back and forth to different supervising agencies. But we are now in a situation where the President wants to change the whole structure of our government,” Laviña said in an earlier report.
“We are pushing for the federal form of government, we will have a charter change process, so the suggestion is let’s not move any agency from one supervision to another,” he added.
The NIA was placed under the OP upon its creation in 1963. In 1972, it was attached to the Department of Public Works, Transportation, and Communication. In 1987, it was attached to both the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and DA.
Then in 1992, it was transferred back to OP, pursuant to EO 22, and then transferred again to DA, as an attached agency through Administrative Order No. 17. Two years later, along with other three agencies – National Food Authority, Philippine Coconut Authority, and Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority – the NIA was again transferred to the OP through EO 165, under the supervision of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization.
According to Dar, transferring NIA back to DA will “support better integration and enhance coordination to maximize available resources to improve the productivity of Philippine agriculture”.
“The transfer will lead to simplicity, economy, and efficiency, and better integration and coordination on the fulfillment of their complementary governmental mandates,” Dar said. “Water is the lifeblood of agriculture, and agriculture is life.
Dar further said that the country still has about 1.2 million hectares of arable farmland that could be irrigated and productively planted to rice, corn, vegetables, and high-value crops. But at the rate the government is investing in and constructing national irrigation systems, he said it would take another 20 years before said goal could be realized.