Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) senatorial bet Win Gatchalian has slammed the Aquino administration for its “callousness” over the plight of farmers, citing the service fees being imposed on farmers in Mindanao for irrigation services despite the raging El Nino.
Gatchalian cited a report by Research think tank IBON Foundation which revealed farmers in Mindanao are being charged P1,000 per hectare per cropping for the services of private irrigation systems, cooperatives, and as well as the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
The IBON Foundation report indicated that the charges are even higher in Bukidnon, where they have to shell out P1,700 during rainy days and P2,500 during the dry season.
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“It is really saddening to know that El Nino-affected farmers in Bukidnon are being charged for irrigation. And this report came in the heels of the Kidapawan incident where three farmers were killed and more than 100 were injured during the violent dispersal. ‘Yan ang problem sa gobyernong walang puso,” said Gatchalian, an exclusive senatorial bet to the Partido Galing at Puso (PGP) of presidential frontrunner Grace Poe and leading vice presidential bet Chiz Escudero.
Gatchalian maintained that that government agencies like the NIA should render service to farmers, first and foremost, and profits should only be secondary to their primary reason for existence.
“The fact that farmers, who are in most need of aid from the government, are being charged for irrigation shows the callousness of the current administration which claims it is pushing for the righteous path or the so-called Daang Matuwid,” Gatchalian pointed out.
Gatchalian said he fully agrees with the IBON report which found it ironic that for a country like the Philippines with more than 400 rivers, 10 major lakes and abundant groundwater sources, irrigation is a problem to many farmers who are forced to avail the services of NIA and private irrigation firms.
“The private sector and the World Bank for instance build the infrastructure, while the government through the NIA as collecting agent imposes service fees on the farmers. Only in the Philippines among agricultural countries one can find such irrigation fees being collected from farmers,” said the IBON report.
Gatchalian has already called on Malacanang to order the Department of Agriculture and other agencies under it to mobilize all its personnel and resources to help all farmers who are now experiencing hunger and thirst due to the El Nino that has ravaged their farm lands.
The Valenzuela City congressman also urged NIA to exercise empathy on its farmer-clients who are now suffering from the drought brought about by the El Nino phenomenon.
“They cannot blame the people who clamor for a change in leadership, for a government who is genuinely sensitive and responsive to the the needs of the people, especially the marginalized. Kailangan natin ng gobyernong may puso,” said Gatchalian.
Gatchalian earlier condemned the Philippine National Police’s violent dispersal of barricading farmers in Kidapawan City saying: “The farmers have only one simple demand – rice for their families. This is more than a valid request from our government. This is a humanitarian plea from our own people .”
For his legislative agenda concerning agriculture, Gatchalian seeks to promote performance-based incentives strategic investments in infrastructure such as floodways and dikes to improve the resiliency of agricultural communities to climatic shocks.
“We cannot truly address poverty in the country without helping our farmers, who comprise one of the largest marginalized groups. Farmers now not only have to worry about land ownership, middle men, loan sharks, and pests. They are on the brink of falling deeper and being trapped longer into poverty because of the worsening effects of climate change,” said Gatchalian.