Duterte signs law giving free irrigation service to small farmers

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Over 15,000 farmers benefit from the three national irrigation systems in CAR.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 9) — Small farmers will no longer have to pay irrigation fees after President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 10969 into law.

Duterte signed the "Free Irrigation Service Act" on Feb. 2, but a copy of the law was only made available to the media on Thursday.

The measure exempts farmers with up to 8 hectares of land from paying irrigation service fees, which fund the operation and maintenance of national and communal irrigation systems, to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

The law also condones and writes off from NIA records the unpaid irrigation fees, penalties and loans of the covered farmers.

However, farmers with more than 8 hectares of land must still pay the fees.

The Philippine Statistics Authority said in its 2012 agriculture census that around 98 percent of the country's 5.5 million farms are 7 hectares or smaller.

The law also states that the national government will cover the foregone irrigation fees.

In the 2017 budget, Congress approved ₱2 billion in irrigation fee subsidies for small farmers. This went up to ₱2.6 billion in the 2018 budget.

The law will take effect 15 days after publication in the Official Gazette or in two newspapers of general circulation, while the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) will be promulgated three months after the law takes effect.

Work 'triple hard'

Farmer's group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said in a Thursday statement that NIA and the Agriculture Department should work "triple time and triple hard" to implement R.A. 10969.

"The enactment of the free irrigation law is a victory of a long-fought struggle of farmers nationwide," said KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos. "Now we enter the next phase of the battle — to ensure the implementation of the law so that farmers and irrigators associations could really benefit from it."

Ramos said that in the IRR, the operation and maintenance cost of national and communal irrigation systems should be shouldered by the government and subsidies should be given to private irrigation systems to ensure that the irrigation service would be absolutely free of charge for farmers.