Senate should look into delay of Free Irrigation Law’s IRR – De Lima

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has called for a Senate inquiry into the delay in the issuance of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for the Free Irrigation Service Act which, among others, would accelerate the country’s rice production.

De Lima filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 853 directing the appropriate Senate committee to find out what is keeping the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its attached agency, the National Irrigation Authority (NIA), from promulgating the IRR.

“The lack of IRR for the Free Irrigation Service Act has caused delays and unevenness in its implementation, with some regions voluntarily implementing it in spite of the absence of the IRR,” she said.

“The absence of the IRR also makes the law susceptible to partisan politics as well as any and all manners of politicking by various interest groups and individuals, there being no clear instructions and standards as to the implementation,” she added.

After it lapsed into law last Jan. 19, Duterte signed Republic Act 10969, also known as the Free Irrigation Service Act, exempting farmers with up to 8 hectares of land from paying irrigation service fees for water from national and communal irrigation systems.

Once fully implemented, the Free Irrigation Service Act also condones all previously unpaid irrigation fees of farmers to NIA, benefitting approximately 98 percent of the total farmer population in the country – or about three million farmers.

However, the Kilusan ng Magbubukid ng Pilipinas has questioned the DA and NIA for exacting these irrigations fees from farmers pending the issuance of the IRR which was supposed to be promulgated three months since the enactment of the law.

In Cordillera, some 14,366 farmers have had their loans condoned in spite of the absence of IRR. Some PhP390 million in loans and unpaid fees of farmers from 1993 to 2017 were condoned as a result of the passage of the law.

De Lima, who chairs the Senate committee on social justice, welfare and rural development, underscored the need to urgently determine the cause for delay, as well as the corresponding accountability for said delay, in the promulgation of the IRR.

“This can also cause confusion on the farmers’ end as they may lack the proper procedural knowledge to exact accountability from the State and its constitutive agencies for the benefits as provided for in the Act,” she said.

“The failure to promulgate the IRR can lead to the outright neglect of the State with its mandate as primary duty-bearer to provide for its intended beneficiaries altogether,” she added.

The Senator from Bicol also pointed out that the continued failure of the NIA to issue the corresponding IRR of the law “constitutes dereliction of duty on the part of the NIA as the primary implementing agency.”

Official figures showed that farmers, as a whole, are considered as one of the most impoverished sectors in Philippine society, recording a poverty incidence of 34.3 percent in 2015.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, farmers have been consistently more impoverished than the average Filipino and are thus relegated to the margins of society as members of the poorest of the poor.

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