Victory has many fathers...
T'WAS PRESIDENT DUTERTE'S RESOLVE
WHICH GAVE FARMERS FREE IRRIGATION
By Manny Piñol
"Victory has many fathers but defeat is an orphan."
Yesterday, I came across an article which quoted the head of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) as saying that the "Free Irrigation Policy" recently implemented by government is an "initial victory" of the Filipino farmers.
In a self-congratulatory statement, KMP Secretary General Antonio Flores said "We claim this as an initial victory for farmers. Farmers and irrigators associations have launched a nationwide campaign for free irrigation and formed the Pambansang Ugnayan para sa Libreng Irigasyon at Patubig or PATUBIG to assert free irrigation services."
There was never any mention of how government was able to implement "Free Irrigation" for 2017 in the KMP statement, not even a word of thanks for President Rody Duterte whose resolve actually made this farmers' dream a reality.
Well, let me just set the record straight.
It was actually in M'lang, North Cotabato in August of 2014, when then Davao City Mayor Rody Duterte publicly shared his thoughts on "Free Irrigation."
"Why ask the farmers to pay for something which is their's? Water is national patrimony. Water should be provided free to our farmers just as we allow the traders to use the public highways for free," was what Duterte essentially said during the farmers' week celebration in M'lang where he was guest of honour.
It was a commitment which Duterte kept on repeating during the whole Presidential campaign and which he did not forget when he became President.
It was also a promise which I kept reminding him about when I became Secretary of Agriculture.
Free Irrigation did not come easy. I should know because President Duterte tasked me to work on it even if the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) is not under the Dept. of Agriculture.
First, there was resistance from some members of the government economic team which viewed Free Irrigation as a "subsidy."
Second, even officials of NIA were averse to the idea of Free Irrigation. In fact, even with the public pronouncements of President Duterte on Free Irrigation, NIA under former administrator Florencio Padernal did not include an additional amount in the agency's budget proposal for 2017 to cover the Irrigation Service Fee (ISF).
In Nueva Ecija, I was told that farmers who wanted to hold a forum on Free Irrigation were not allowed to use the NIA facility by regional officials of NIA in Region III.
Honestly, I was deathly worried that President Duterte's commitment of "Free Irrigation" would not be fulfilled.
With the explicit instructions of President Duterte, however, I relayed to the key members of Congress and the Senate his wish for the realisation of his commitment of "Free Irrigation."
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Cong. Karlo Nograles, Congresswoman Megan Antonino and members of the House Committee on Agriculture headed by Cong. Jose "Bentot" Panganiban, Jr., including opposition leaders, threw their support to Free Irrigation.
It was a unanimous position among Congressmen to support Free Irrigation. In fact, some even proposed that the old accounts of the farmers be condoned.
It was in the Senate, however, where I was really assured that "Free Irrigation" for Filipino rice farmers would be realised when Senator Loren Legarda, head of the powerful Finance Committee committed that she would work on providing additional funding for NIA to cover the ISF for 2017.
The support in the Senate was unanimous as almost all members, including those critical of President Duterte, pushed for Free Irrigation.
Senators Cynthia Villar, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto, Risa Hontiveros, Miguel Zubiri, Manny Pacquiao, Koko Pimentel and Franklin Drilon were among the strongest supporters of Free Irrigation.
It was Cynthia Villar who actually confronted the hard-headed former NIA officials and asked them how much was needed to cover the ISF collections for 2017 and ensure the fulfilment of President Duterte's commitment of Free Irrigation.
This is the true and real story behind the realisation of that age-old dream of the Filipino rice farmers for Free Irrigation.
I am not belittling the efforts of farmers' groups like KMP who batted for Free Irrigation but the fact remains that had it not been for the resolve of President Duterte, it would just have remained a dream.
Looking back at what went through, I ask myself: "What would have happened if the Free Irrigation commitment was not realised?"
I would have resigned as Secretary of Agriculture because I had no face to show to the farmers who believed me when I assured them that the Duterte Presidency meant Free Irrigation.
If President Duterte failed to deliver on his promise of Free Irrigation, the KMP and the other radical groups now claiming victory would certainly be in the streets denouncing the President and attacking him as a liar.
They would have publicly crucified him for reneging on a promise and betraying the farmers.
President Duterte does not relish gratification neither does he want to be glorified for serving the people.
But I believe that in the interest of fairness, the KMP should have at least acknowledged that without President Duterte's strong resolve to fulfil his promises, there would be no "Free Irrigation Victory" to celebrate today.
Free Irrigation has come true because there is a President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.