Free irrigation starts this year

President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise of free irrigation service for farmers started this year.

This developed as P2 billion was provided in the budget of NIA in the General Appropriations Act of 2017 or RA 10924 as subsidy in lieu of the irrigation service fees (ISF) being collected from farmers being served by national irrigation systems (NIS).

Earlier in the year, the NIA Board of Directors approved Resolution No. 8396-17 s. 2017 providing for the guidelines on free irrigation service fee circularized through NIA Memorandum Circular No. 13, s. 2017. It provides that the free irrigation service fee commences during the first cropping season of Crop Year 2017.

First crop in the Cordillera Region is usually harvested April or May of every year in the national irrigation systems (NIS). For instance, in Upper Chico River Irrigation System (UCRIS) with service areas in Kalinga and Isabela, the first crop of 2017 was planted in November or December of 2016 and will be harvested in March until May of 2017. This harvest will no longer be charged with ISF. Other NISs in the region are the West Apayao Abulug Irrigation System (WAAIS) with service areas in Apayao and Cagayan and the Hapid Irrigation System in Ifugao.

Aside from the termination of ISF payment in the NISs, the resolution also specifies that NIA will stop collecting amortization and equity payments from farmers or Irrigators’ Associations. Amortization and equity are cost recovery schemes availed by the Irrigators’ Associations during the construction, rehabilitation, restoration and expansion of service areas of communal and small irrigation systems.

Nevertheless, fishponds, corporate farms, plantations, and other non-agricultural crop users using water or drainage facilities are not covered by the free irrigation service program and therefore will still be charged with corresponding ISF and/or drainage fees being imposed by NIA. Also, for projects with local government units participation, the equity requirement from the concerned LGU will still be maintained.

Under Republic Act No. 3601, the NIA as a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) is mandated to collect irrigation service fee (ISF) from farmers. The inclusion of the irrigation fee subsidy in the 2017 budget, collection of ISF for 2017 cropping seasons will now cease. However, all back account or unpaid ISF, amortization and equity payments before the effectivity of the RA 10924 remain as liabilities of farmers and IAs. As such, NIA which may collaborate with the Office of the Solicitor General and Office of the Government Corporate Counsel will still have to continue the collection of such unpaid ISF and other liabilities.

While irrigation service is now free, NIA shall continue to handle responsibilities in the operation and maintenance management for major facilities and structure such as dams, diversion works and main canals of large and medium national irrigation systems with areas of 3,000 hectares and above as these generally require technical knowhow. Operation and maintenance of lateral and on-farm facilities and structures shall be transferred to the farmers through their respective Irrigators’ Associations (IA). The Upper Chico River Irrigation System (UCRIS) with service areas in Kalinga and Isabela, and the West Apayao Abulug Irrigation System (WAAIS) with service areas in Apayao and Cagayan are categorized as medium NISs.

For small NISs with service areas of less than 3,000 hectares as well as communal and pump irrigation systems, their management as well as operation and maintenance shall be completely transferred to duly organized and developed IAs. Most irrigation systems in the Cordilleras are categorized under communal irrigation systems. NIA-CAR assures that it will carry on the provision of technical support to the IAs in the planning, construction, restoration and rehabilitation of these irrigation systems. Also, the agency will continue to provide capability building programs and training to sustain IA functionality.