TALISAY CITY, Cebu – Small farmers over the weekend asked Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan to craft a law that would disallow big businessmen from availing themselves of free irrigation and require them to pay a fee for the operation, maintenance, and expansion of irrigation facilities.
Ireneo “Dodong” Leuterio, president of Cebu Provincial Federation of Irrigators’ Association, read a manifesto to the chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture and food during a consultative dialogue here.
“Businessmen availing the irrigation services and facilities of the irrigators’ association should not be covered by the ISF Free Policy and the irrigation service charge must be collected from them for the operations, maintenance, and expansion of the facilities,” the small farmers said in the manifesto. ISF stands for irrigation service fee.
Businessmen are those with big tracts of land who use the water from the irrigation facilities for swimming pools for their resorts and other business enterprises, they explained during the dialogue.
Irrigators’ associations are farmers’ organizations that need money to repair damages to irrigation systems as soon as they happen, the farmers said.
“Pag may konting ulan, nagkakaroon ng konting damages. Kailangan pa rin ng pondo ng irrigators’ associations para ayusin ito. Kung aasa sa taas, baka umabot nang siyam-siyam bago mangyari ito (Some rain can sometimes damage the irrigation system. The irrigators’ associations need some funds to fix the damages right away. If we have to wait for those at the top, fixing the damages will most likely be delayed),” Leuterio said.
The small farmers’ representative said the P2-billion recently allocated in the 2017 national budget for the government’s policy of free irrigation service fee is insufficient as it covers the big irrigation facilities and not the small ones like theirs.
In their manifesto, the farmers from Cebu said the law they are asking Pangilinan to sponsor and champion for them should include a “provision for sufficient national budget for the communal irrigation system (CIS) subsidy for system rehabilitation, expansion, and institutional development.”
The same manifesto also called on the government to stop the “indiscriminate and rampant illegal conversion of prime agricultural rice lands.”
The new law they are pushing also calls for the “imposition of stricter penalties, including imprisonment, to all violators, to include LGU (local government unit) officials and government personnel, who illegally and prematurely convert prime agricultural and irrigated rice lands covered by the communal irrigation system of NIA” (National Irrigation Administration).
Violators, the farmers said, include those who extract sand and gravel.
“Nasisira ang (Destroyed are the) natural drains and the structures are threatened. Bumibigay na (They are collapsing),” they said. “Violators include local officials and government personnel. We have filed cases but the cases are not moving. May mga abuso mula barangay level. Aminin natin na may abuso kapalit ng pera (There are abuses at the barangay level. We must admit that the abuses are in exchange for money).”
At the same time, the farmers said they need NIA funding assistance to empower their irrigators’ associations and allow for sustainable irrigation systems and their expansion.
In response, the Liberal Party president agreed that “Hindi pwedeng libre lahat…Marami na silang pera. Kung libre pa sila, para naman silang tumama sa lotto (Not everyone can avail himself of free irrigation service fees. For those who already have a lot of money, it would be like winning the lotto if they are not charged anything).”
Pangilinan also told the farmers about his pet Sagip Saka bill, which:
· requires LGUs to buy their food needs (rice, vegetables, poultry, etc.) for their feeding programs from farmers’ associations without any bidding; and
· gives incentives to private corporations (Jollibee, Nestle, supermarkets) that buy directly from farmers’ associations and donate tractors and other yield-raising equipment or facilities to them.
“Buying directly from farmers’ associations means that middlemen would be eliminated and wastage reduced. This means bigger incomes for farmers,” Pangilinan said, citing 32 Thailand farming families earning the equivalent of P1.2 million a month on a similar program.