FREE IRRIGATION & FARMERS’ CONGRESS

By Sonny Domingo

The “free irrigation issue” has a history.

Immediately after the takeover of the government by Pres. Cory Aquino in 1986, farmer leaders complained that they were not given attention by Pres. Cory and her then Sec. of Agriculture, Sonny Dominguez. I then organized the FIRST SMALL FARMERS CONGRESS under the leadership of KA BEN CRUZ of SANDUGUAN of which our farmers’ federation KaMMMPi was an active member.

I designed the Farmers Congress for Pres. Cory and her Cabinet Secretaries for Agriculture and Agrarian Reform to attend and listen to the farmers to read 10 Resolutions and explain them. (This time, the President and Cabinet Secretaries were invited only to listen on the issues that will be brought out by the farmers.)

The First Small Farmers Congress was attended by more than 3,000 farmer leaders and their supporters from North, Central and Southern Luzon. The timing was immediately after the Mendiola Masacre organized by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) now headed by Sec. Paeng Mariano of the Dept. of Agrarian Reform.

To avoid having the same experience I suggested that we coordinate with the Manila Police Department (MPD), since the congress was to be held at the Rizal Stadium (renamed Aquino after putting air conditioners). It turned out that the heads of the MPD was also a farmer from Bulacan and was very sympathetic to our objective of bringing to the attention of the new President the plight of the small farmers.

And so I suggested that to avoid being branded as another group against the newly installed President, we were to meet in front of the Luneta grandstand and be escorted by mobile police with colorful balloons followed by the jeeps we hired with the same colored balloons to have our one day congress. True enough we were not bothered.

President Cory did not attend but her cabinet Secretaries, Sonny Dominguez for Agriculture and Philip Juico for Agrarian Reform attended. And so the Farmers Congress started by about midday and the farmers started reading the 10 resolutions and explained the provisions to help the smallholder farmers.

Since there were not enough electric fans, both Secretaries seated on the front row to listen to the farmers (this time) instead of being the speakers had to sweat it out since the fan was directed to the stage.

In the middle of the Congress, we got a call from Malacañang to now meet with Pres. Cory.

When the leaders asked me whether to stop the proceedings to go to Malacañang and meet Pres. Cory, I advised them against it.

I said “the farmers came to Manila to deliver their message to the President through the Farmers Congress and no one should stop it even the President. I said the President can always wait for the people at her own time, but the people cannot wait for her for their livelihood”.

What was distinct in the 10 FARMERS RESOLUTIONS that we drafted was Resolution No.1 asking for FREE IRRIGATION. The predicate was if the government is willing to use borrowed funds from the World Bank to build highways for the traders to have FREE USE to bring food to the urban areas and profit from it, the government must also be ready to build irrigation systems for the farmers to have FREE IRRIGATION in producing the food the traders sell. Furthermore, the rains that provides water to the dams are also free as a seasonal gift from God and must not be sold. It was as simple as that and there was a loud viva voce to approve it and heard by the cabinet secretaries loud and clear.

When Joseph Estrada won as President it was one of the major programs he wanted to undertake. I was told later by then Sec. of Agriculture William D. Dar that irrigation fees for small farmers were given free but those with bigger farms were to pay.

There was then a strong lobby against the free irrigation and it fizzled out when Dr. Dar was eased out because of politics even as record shows that there was a 10% increase in agricultural growth from zero during that during his watch.

And so the farmers continued to till their land to produce rice for the consumers by borrowing at usurious rates or 5/6 and did not even have enough harvest to pay for the loan of something like 10% per month or 40% per season where they could hardly have a 25% ROI. Most of them end up losing money.

The irrigated farms were erased from the face of Philippine landscape when they were converted into subdivisions because the agrarian reform beneficiaries were allowed to sell their farms after 5 years. They would have been ideal for vegetable production and could have developed and roadside marketing systems for every community in the country so they will not have to buy imported vegetables. Or better still they could have been converted into green houses to produce high value organic vegetables as shown below:

 

This could have easily been promoted with funding from the various banks which was required by law under PD 717 during the Marcos Administration to allocate 15% of their loanable funds for agricultural projects and 10% for agrarian reform beneficiaries. (Banks now buy T- Bills to complain since they consider agricultural projects to be high risk projects which has now deprived the farmers of farm credit after the credit subsidy by the government was discontinued to comply with WTO). Add to this the siltation of the irrigation systems and the impact of mining tails and the Mr. Pinatubo eruption.

P 4 BILLION SUBSIDIES

And so the plan of Sec. Pinol is to now add P 4 billion in the 2017 budget of P 36 billion for PS and MOOE or personnel services and maintenance and operating expenses to defray the yearly cost of national irrigation systems instead of collecting it from the farmers.

In addition, he plans that with the support of Congress and President this will now be institutionalize by changing the NIA Charter.

This move merits the accolade of the irrigated farmers but may leave out the rainfed farmers.

A similar program must also be made available to the rain fed farmers who may even opt to pay for the irrigation fees if they end up owning the irrigation system as a profit center for their organization.

A proposal made by KaMMMPi requires only P500,000 per hectare to provide for the modernization of rain fed farm by putting up the irrigation system under “electrigation”, providing for a tractor pool and a modern rice mill to market their own produce.

The farmers become co-owners of the project under a farmer’s corporation owned by their organization

Under Pres. Duterte’s CHANGE IS COMING this will now be an opportune time to enable Sec. Pinol to make a difference in the countryside where his heart is.

The government seed fund as “social capital for the farmers” will not only pay for the construction of the irrigation systems but will also provide them a tractor pool to go into farm mechanization and a modern rice mill complex with renewable energy to irrigated their farms and process their own produce. At present it may now cost more than P 500,000 per hectare to irrigate only while the KaMMMPi approach offers a complete system that will be organized to be owned by the farmers and manage the project.

Under the WTO of which the Philippines is a signatory, it can no longer provide SUBSIDY to the farmers.

However, this will be a social investment for the farmers under an OMNIBUS DEVELOPMENT LOAN that can be repaid and used for their expansion to other areas and beneficiaries to get out of the bind.

(This column was initially maintained by V.L. Sonny Domingo a farmer leader and now a member of the Board of Agriculture, as GRAIN OF SALT at the Green and Gold of U.P. College of Agriculture, then as FOODLINE at the Manila Chronicle. It now appears in this magazine as a continuing advocacy of the columnist to bring to the attention of leaders and policy makers the real score in the natural resources of the country and the disadvantage sectors. Publisher)

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Saturday, 25 November 2017
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