MANILA - Around 3 million farmers around the country will benefit from a law institutionalizing free irrigation services to farmers tilling land 8 hectares and below, a lawmaker said Tuesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this month signed into law the Free Irrigation Service Act, which exempts farmers with 8 hectares and below from paying irrigation service fees for water derived from national and communal irrigation systems.
"This is the way para mag-equalize ang marginalized sa di marginalized," Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin told reporters, noting that farmers owning 8 hectares of land and below constitute 98 percent of the total farmer population in the country, or about 3 million farmers.
The law also condoned all unpaid irrigation service fees including penalties, and all loans, past due accounts, interests and penalties of farmers with land 8 hectares and below.
Lawmakers behind the measure praised its swift passage. It was signed into law only a year and 4 months since it was referred to a House committee on November 2016.
"This landmark legislation will reduce cost of production of farmers," BUTIL Party-list Rep. Cecilia Leonila Chavez said.
ANAC-IP Party-list Rep. Jose Panganiban, who chairs the House committee on agriculture, said this would mean thousands of pesos of savings for average farmers.
"Malaking tulong po sa mga magsasaka. Dati nagbabayad sila ng P4,250 pesos bawat hektarya para sa irrigation," he said, explaining that if a farmer has 2 harvests in a year, this would translate to annual savings of P8,500 per hectare.
With the measure, the government will shoulder P1.8 billion in irrigation fees and forego P28 billion worth of loans and unpaid fees since the creation of the National Irrigation Administration in 1963, according to Garin.
"Imbes na magkolekta ang gobyerno ng P1.8 billion a year, huwag na, ibigay na lang natin sa mga magsasaka… The government will shoulder the expenses for irrigation fees. It will lessen costs for farmers. Imbes igastos sa irririgation fees, i-spend na lang nila on food security or food production," Garin said, noting that this was a campaign promise of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Panganiban said since 2016, the government has been shouldering P1.8 billion of irrigation costs for farmers by allocating a yearly budget in the General Appropriations Act. But with the passage of the law, this practice will be institutionalized.