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Gatchalian hails expansion of free irrigation program for small farmers

PASAY CITY, Philippines – Senate Committee on Economic Affairs chair Senator Win Gatchalian engages colleagues at a meeting of the Bicameral Conference Committee on Agriculture and Food on the disagreeing provisions of Senate Bill 1465 and House Bill 5670, or the Free Irrigation Service Act, 10 October 2017. The bicameral committee has approved the measure that will erase all debts of small farmers with landholdings of eight hectares and below; and exempt them from paying future irrigation fees. Photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS WIN GATCHALIAN

Senator Win Gatchalian hails the expansion of the proposed debt condonation and exemption program for irrigation service fees (ISFs) to cover more small farmers who are struggling to make ends meet in the face of mounting debts.

“Small farmers are now two steps closer to being completely exempted from paying hefty dues imposed by the NIA (National Irrigation Administration) on its National Irrigation System and Communal Irrigation System. Our poor farmers will benefit the most if this law is passed,” said Gatchalian, co-author of the Senate version of the Free Irrigation Service to Small Farmers Act of 2017 (SBN 1465), during the bicameral conference held on Tuesday to reconcile conflicting provisions between the Senate and House versions of the bill.

Under the reconciled bill, the debts of small farmers with landholdings of 8 hectares or below from unpaid ISFs, including past due accounts, interest, penalties, and loans, will be condoned by the government. They will also be exempt from paying future irrigation fees. The version which originally passed the Senate limited this privilege to farmers with 5 hectares of land or less.

“I believe 8 hectares is a fair compromise. As legislators, it is our duty to make sure all our local farmers have equitable access to opportunities and sustained productivity. We need to give more to our farmers who have less and are crippled by past dues,” the senator said.

The General Appropriations Act of 2017 provides for a PHP 2 billion subsidy to cover the ISFs collected by the NIA from farmers associations. This intervention paved the way for free irrigation services to Filipino farmers.

The NIA is also responsible for ensuring the availability of vital irrigation services through continued construction, repair, and maintenance of irrigation facilities.

In March 2017 Gatchalian filed Senate Bill No. 1412, otherwise known as the Free Irrigation Services Act, which was later consolidated into SBN 1465.