No freebie for big bizmen

By: Victor Anthony V. Silva February 21,2017 - 09:07 PM

A farmer tends to his cabbage farm in Barangay Mantalongon, Dalaguete, Cebu in this April 2016 photo. (CDN FILE)

A farmer tends to his cabbage farm in Barangay Mantalongon, Dalaguete, Cebu in this April 2016 photo. (CDN FILE)

Group: Free use of irrigation facilities should only be for small farmers

While small farmers in Cebu welcomed initiatives of the present administration to make true President Duterte’s campaign promise of free irrigation, they said not all should be allowed to benefit from this.

The Cebu Provincial Federation of Irrigators’ Association (CPFIA) said big businessmen should still be required to pay a certain fee for the operation, maintenance, and expansion of irrigation facilities.

“Big businesses should be exempted from the Irrigation Service Fee (ISF)-Free Policy since they are earning much. If they’re allowed to do that, they will dominate. We, small farmers, chip in money to maintain these facilities because these are supposed to be for the poor and ordinary citizens,” CPFIA president Ireneo Leuterio told Cebu Daily News in a phone interview.

Members of the CPFIA, composed of around 90 farming organizations from all over the province, gathered over the weekend in Talisay City to read a manifesto asking Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan to intervene.

Pangilinan, who heads the Senate committee on agriculture and food, was in Cebu for a consultative meeting with farmers and other activities in the city last week.

During the dialogue, the farmers said that some businessmen with big tracts of land use water from irrigation facilities for swimming pools in resorts and other enterprises.

Farmers, on the other hand, depend on irrigation facilities to keep their crops healthy, and, therefore, have the responsibility to take care of these implements.

Irrigation charges

The National Irrigation Authority (NIA) currently charges farming associations in the country for amortization of irrigation systems placed under their care up to 50 years.

In Cebu, one farming association oversees the operations of one communal irrigation facility.

Leuterio said in their case, the farmers’ dues are either one sack of unmilled rice grains or P400 to P1,000 per hectare of irrigated land, either through natural wells or mechanical systems.

“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.

He added that the P2 billion recently allocated in the 2017 national budget for the government’s policy of free irrigation is insufficient as it covers the big irrigation facilities and not the small ones like theirs.

Sufficient budget

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.”

Leuterio said free irrigation would greatly benefit farmers in Cebu, which are around 300,000 in number, as well as in the rest of the country.

“Instead of using their earnings for payment of the ISF, they may use it to purchase more farm inputs as well. They may also go into other ventures such as livestock raising,” he said.

In 2014, agriculture logged a 10 percent share in the Philippines’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with value added amounting to P713 billion at constant 2,000 prices.

Palay made up 21 percent of crops production with 18.97 million metric tons, followed by corn, coconut, banana, sugarcane, mango, and pineapple at less than 10 percent each.

Land conversion issue

The farmers’ 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.”

Violators, the farmers said, include those who extract sand and gravel.

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TAGS: agriculture, Cebu, farm, farmer, farming, farms, Talisay City

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