Press Release
February 8, 2016


Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero is pushing for the abolition of the irrigation service fees (ISFs), saying that the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) has enough funds to sustain its operations even without the burdensome amount it is charging the poor farmers, especially in this period of drought.

"The ISF has become expendable through the years with bigger appropriations for the NIA. It's time for the government to abolish it and condone the debt incurred by our poor farmers from these burdensome irrigation fees," said Escudero, the frontrunner in the vice-presidential race.

According to the former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the NIA has received a substantial budget infusion since 2013, jumping 19-fold to P32.7 billion this year, and as such, can very well fund the operation of the government-built irrigation facilities sans the ISFs.

"The NIA's budget is now at P32.7 billion this year from just P1.7 billion in 2013. This means that the agency is no longer reliant on the ISF so it is just right for the government to abolish this fee which has become burdensome to our farmers, particularly those suffering the impact of the El Niño phenomenon," Escudero said.

In a statement issued on January 26, the NIA has opposed the abolition of the ISF in fear that it would have a "rippling effect" on the country's food production, as well as hurt the operation of the existing system facilities.

The NIA's target ISF collection last year was at P2.24 billion. In 2014 it was at P1.8 billion and in 2013, P1.6 billion.

According to the 2014 audit report of the Commission on Audit (COA), the NIA has ISF and Communal Irrigation System (CIS) receivables amounting to P19.2 billion.

The veteran lawmaker said with bigger budget, the NIA even without the ISF, can already live up to its vision of developing and maintaining irrigation systems to increase agricultural productivity and increase farmers' income.

"Marapat lamang na ibigay ng pamahalaan ang lahat ng ayuda na pwedeng ilaan sa ating mga magsasaka upang maibsan ang kanilang paghihirap lalo na iyong mga tinamaan ng El Niño at iba pang kalamidad," Escudero said, noting that the agriculture sector is home to 70 percent of the poor families in the country.

"Sa halip na kunin pa ang halagang ito ng gobyerno mula sa ating mahihirap na magsasaka, iwan na lang iyan sa kanilang mga bulsa," he added.

Farmers pay an estimated average ISF of P4,500 per hectare a year, which is equivalent to five cavans of palay. The NIA collects the ISFs for yields with 40 cavans and above.

The rate is based on the prevailing National Food Authority (NFA) support price for rice which is P17 per kilo. With 50 kilos in a cavan, the NIA collects a fee of P1,700 during the wet season and P2,550 during the dry season. The Makabayan bloc in Congress last year filed House Bill 6224, otherwise known as the "Free Irrigation Services Act of 2015," which seeks to put a stop to the collection of ISFs, stressing that it is the obligation of the State to provide the necessary and vital support services and assistance to farmers.

The bill seeks to amend Republic Act No. 3601, Presidential Decree No. 552 and Presidential Decree No. 1702, which empower the agency to collect fees from the beneficiaries of the government's irrigation systems.

Escudero said ISFs were already abolished in 1998 by then President Joseph Estrada. The NIA, however, revived it through the adoption of a socialized irrigation fee system.

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