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The P2 billion additional allocation for NIA under the proposed 2017 General Appropriations Act (GAA) is intended to cover the ISF collected by the agency from farmers' associations.
An accompanying Special Provision for this purpose specifies that the P2 billion allocation will be used to cover the operating requirements of NIA and the maintenance of existing irrigation facilities which were previously funded out of the collections from ISF.
"Our farmers, who feed the nation, are among the poorest of the poor who urgently need government support and intervention. At present, they need to pay the irrigation service fee for NIA to irrigate their farms when, in fact, what we need to pursue is the lowering of production costs so we can achieve food security, encourage more citizens to engage in or go back to farming, and improve the income of our small farmers," said Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance.
The NIA is authorized to collect the ISF pursuant to Republic Act No. 3601, but Legarda said it is time to amend the said law.
"This intervention in the budget is only the first step to free our small farmers from the added burden of having to pay for irrigation fees. What we really intend is to make it a policy of government," she explained.
Legarda is the co-author of the proposed Free Irrigation Reform and Restructuring Act, which seeks to remove from NIA the functions of maintaining irrigation projects and collecting irrigation services and other fees.
Under the said measure, fees being collected by NIA from its irrigation beneficiaries will be discontinued and the management and maintenance of irrigation facilities will be turned over to the beneficiaries and will be provided with professional management support.
"The free irrigation for farmers under the 2017 national budget will be a big boost for the agriculture sector and we will continue to support improvements in the sector through various measures and policies, including the immediate passage of the proposed Free Irrigation Act," Legarda concluded.
Source: Senate Of The Philippines