By Juan Escandor Jr.
NAGA CITY---The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) has turned over to irrigators’ associations (IAs) the management, maintenance and operation of 62 irrigation facilities servicing 18,716 ha across the Bicol region during the signing of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) held here on Tuesday (June 6).
NIA Administrator Ricardo Visaya, who signed the MOA with the farmer-leaders, said the irrigation agency will transfer from NIA the management, maintenance and operation of irrigation facilities to irrigators’ associations (IAs) upon the signing of the agreement.
Visaya said the NIA will continue to assist the farmers through technical support like trainings, saying the turn-over of management, maintenance and operation of the irrigation facilities “is a way of empowering the farmers.”
Vicente Vicmodo, Bicol regional manager, said after the transfer of the maintenance and operation of the irrigation facilities, the IAs will be compensated for every kilometer of the canals turned over to them.
Vicmodo said for every cropping season the NIA compensates the IAs with P1,750 per seven kilometer of concrete line canal and the same amount for 3.5 km of earth canal for their clearing.
He added that the IAs will also be given an incentive of P150/ha serviced with irrigation and planted every cropping season.
“We are encouraging the irrigators’ association to expand because for every hectare they were able served they will be compensated with P150,” Vicmodo said.
He said the NIA has already computed the remuneration intended for the irrigators’ association from the P234 million allocation.
But Silvestre Bonto, regional president of the IAs, did not see the turn-over of the irrigation facilities advantageous to the IAs.
“Actually it (turn-over of maintenance and operation of irrigation facilities) is not advantageous though it will help. The budget given in 2017 was not enough to the needs of the irrigators’ associations,” Bonto said.
He said the signed the agreement because the budget for 2017 had already been released. “But we are submitting a proposal to increase the budget in 2018.”
Bonto said they have signed the agreement so that the plan to transfer the maintenance and operation of the irrigation facilities could start.
Visayas said the NIA budget for 2017 is P38 billion of which P27.524 billion go to direct infrastructure costs consisting of construction of irrigation facilities covering 23,115 ha and restoration work covering 13,507 ha.
He said since January this year the NIA has stopped collecting irrigation service fee from the farmers pending the approval of the bill being deliberated in Congress regarding the status of the irrigation agency.
Visaya said that not all farms will be free from irrigation fees and the proposal is to charge corporate farms and farms more than five ha in size.
Eduardo Yu, NIA spokesperson in Bicol, said the farmers used to pay an equivalent of P4,500 per year for two cropping seasons as irrigation service fee.
But Yu said that for the past years the farmers were no able to pay the required amount so that the irrigation service fee collectible to the farmers has ballooned to some P500M in Bicol and P13B nationwide.
Visaya said there is a growing consensus in Congress to transform NIA into a line agency from government-owned and controlled corporation since it is actually tasked in providing services.