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Bringing NIA closer to the farmers: The story behind the NIS, CIS clustering

Regional Manager Freddie M. Toquero, hands over the symbolic key to the newly appointed CSIMO head, Engr. Alvin L. Macasinag.

Our belief in achieving greatness is mostly attuned with having something bigger. It is also said that big is better. But is it?

Based on the study and analysis of Engr. Freddie M. Toquero, Ph. D, who has a Doctorate degree in Water Management, sometimes big is not better, especially if it’s centralized, as it breeds inefficiency, red tape and poor performance in terms of project implementation, operation and management.

Barely six months as the region’s acting manager and a few days before becoming a full-fledge Regional Manager at that time, Director Toquero decided to push for the clustering of NIS and CIS in the Camarines Sur Irrigation Management Office (CSIMO), the biggest of the four IMOs in the Bicol region.

By all indicators, CSIMO, indeed, is the biggest. In terms of: potential irrigable area, it has 123,700 hectares out of the 239,660 hectares or 59.67 percent of the regional total; For service area, there are 77,579 hectares being served by NIA CSIMO or 62.72 percent of the regional total of 143,004 hectares; For irrigators associations (IAs) served, CSIMO has 55 IAs out of 78 IAs in NIS or 70.51 percent, while there are 173 IAs in CIS or 31 percent of the total of 557 IAs in CIS region wide and caters to 42,404 farmer-beneficiaries out of the total of 85,321 farmers served by NIA-assisted irrigation systems across the Bicol region as of December 31, 2019.

Naturally, with this size, CSIMO always gets the biggest slice of the pie, so to speak, in terms of projects and budgetary allocation year in and year out. In 2019, it had 48 projects with an allocation of P593, 016,000. This year, it has 64 projects and P514, 150,000 allocation out of the total of 202 projects and P1.202 billion regional allocation.

When he assumed as NIA Bicol chief in July 2019, he found out that CSIMO has 43 delayed projects as far back as 2015 until 2018.

Aside from that, most of the complaints elevated by farmers to the 8888 hotline and the Presidential Complaint Center (PCC) were about projects and poor service of NIA in the province of Camarines Sur.

So how do you solve a big problem like that?

Director Toquero or FMT, as he is fondly called in Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation System (UPRIIS), where he rose from the ranks to become the Division Manager of its Dam and Reservoir Division (DRD) and later on as chief of its Division 1 prior to his assignment in Region 5, came up with the idea of clustering CSIMO’s four National Irrigation Systems (NIS) and 173 functional Communal Irrigation Systems (CIS) under four district offices.

To implement his novel idea, FMT issued Office Memorandum No. 042, series 2020 on January 24, 2020 directing the clustering of all NIS and CIS and all ongoing projects located in the same provincial district in Camarines Sur.

As a result of the clustering program, the former Irrigation System Offices (ISOs) of Libmanan-Cabusao PIS (LCPIS), Tigman-Hinagyanan RIS (THIRIS), Cagaycay RIS (CRIS), and Rinconada Integrated Irrigation System (RIIS) were transformed into District Offices I & II (LCPIS), District Office III (THIRIS); District Office IV (CRIS), and District Office V (RIIS).

These four district offices are under the supervision of the CSIMO-Head Office, which long a long time has the sole responsibility of handling all matters related to CIS and implementation of communal projects.

Under FMT’s clustering program, the responsibilities of project development and implementation (PDI), operation and maintenance (O&M) and institutional development program (IDP), administrative and personnel matters, and financial management of all irrigation systems and projects are now devolved to the district offices.

Dir. Toquero and Engr. Macasinag during the site visit and inspection of the delayed projects in Camarines Sur IMO.

With this new set up, FMT said, NIA employees in district offices can immediately act on issues and concerns of irrigators associations (IAs), individual farmers and other stakeholders relative to irrigations systems/projects within the district.

“In simple terms, this clustering program brought the services of NIA closer to the people as IAs/farmers/other stakeholders who have issues/concerns about communal projects/systems need no longer go the CSIMO head office in Naga City. Instead they can go to the nearest NIA district office, which in turn can immediately act on their concerns,” FMT said.

For her part, Engr. Seema S. Gonzaga, acting manager of the Engineering and Operations Division believed that the clustering of offices in CSIMO is NIA Region 5’s way of heeding the government’s call for ease of doing business and efficient government service delivery. “It is very timely, especially now that we are all affected by the pandemic. It will also be easier for us to address their issues and concern.”

The program is like an infant, barely a few months old since it was fully implemented only in June 2020. For sure, there will be birth pains just like any experiment in progress.

At the end of the day, FMT did what is expected of a good and true manager when faced with a big problem. He thought of a solution outside the box believing in what Albert Einstein said that: “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.”

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