Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. sees a boost in agricultural production next year as well as immediate revival of the agricultural sector in the calamity-hit areas as reconstruction of irrigation systems is assured with P8-billion appropriations in the 2014 P2.265-billion national budget approved by the Senate on Tuesday.
Marcos batted for the appropriations as early as September when he learned that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had scrapped the P4.5 billion budget for the repair and rehabilitation next year which the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) had sought.
The P8 billion, which is part of the P80-billion unprogrammed fund item in next year’s budget measure, is meant for repair and rehabilitation of irrigation systems nationwide, which will include those in areas affected by recent natural disasters such as typhoon Yolanda, Santi, and Labuyo, the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Central Visayas, as well as the Zamboanga siege.
“Food is the most essential item in areas hit by natural and man-made disasters. Since irrigation is a key factor in increasing agricultural productivity, such funding will go a long way in ensuring adequate food supply and early recovery of the principal means of livelihood of people in these areas,” Marcos said.
The Senate action gained more significance amid the effort of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to raise more than $11 million in aid to Philippine farmers.
FAO said this would help people in rural areas of the Philippines to clean and clear agricultural lands and de-silt irrigation canals in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Yolanda.
“It would be a double tragedy if next spring farming families still needed to rely on continued humanitarian food assistance because we haven’t been able to support them as they recover from this disaster,” said Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division.
Before super typhoon “Yolanda hit the country early this month, Marcos, chairman of the Senate Public Works Committee, had vowed to fund the repair and rehabilitation of the country’s irrigation systems saying this is a crucial factor in the government’s drive for the country’s food security.
In one of his committee’s public hearing, several farmers’ group have informed him that the DBM scrapped the P4.5 billion funding for the item NIA sought under the proposed 2014 national budget.
NIA officials told Marcos that the government directed them to use instead their collections in Irrigation Service Fees to fund the repair and rehabilitation of existing irrigation system.
But with barely P2 billion in annual collections in ISF, Marcos said it is unlikely for NIA to rehabilitate and repair damaged irrigation systems, which would also impact on the overall productivity of the country’s agriculture.
“In terms of policy, I really cannot understand why you (NIA) have to charge the farmers? In my view, irrigation is a service that the government provides to the farmers. That’s why I asked the support of my colleagues to fund this item and they saw the wisdom of my concern,” he said.