MANILA, Philippines - There are no available funds for projects to counter the effects of the El Nino phenomenon that is expected to hit the country within the next two months, an official of the Department of Agriculture (DA) told a congressional hearing yesterday.
Director Roy Abaya of the DA Field Operations Service told the joint hearing of the House committees on agriculture and on food security that the agency has laid out a comprehensive El Niño phenomenon mitigation plan for all regions of the country that would initially cost P5.3 billion.
But Abaya said that of the amount, P4.5 billion remains unfunded and the DA has no contingency fund to fill the gap.
The DA, however, will ask for the funds from the Department of Budget and Management.
He noted that the funds are urgently needed for the repair or upgrading of irrigation facilities and the distribution of seeds and seedlings to farmers as replacement for crops that may be destroyed by El Niño.
During the hearing, Northern Samar Rep. Emil Ong sought the increase in the budget of the DA by P100 billion for next year as the agency has a huge mandate.
He said the P68 billion allocated for the agency this year was insufficient for the DA to address various challenges to the agriculture sector.
Batangas Rep. Mark Llandro Mendoza, chairman of the agriculture committee, backed Ong’s proposal and sought the support of his colleagues for the suggestion in the coming deliberations for the proposed 2015 national budget.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said the preparations for El Niño should have been done by the Aquino administration years ago.
He also warned the funding for El Niño projects “may just be used as a milking cow of unscrupulous politicians.”
“The problems we are facing now regarding the El Niño phenomenon would not be as big if the Aquino administration had prepared for it years ago, considering that this phenomenon is quasi-seasonal in nature and can be foreseen because it is fairly regular,” Colmenares said.
“When the first forecast for El Niño surfaced, plans for irrigation, crop planting decisions, seed selection and fertilizer application in agriculture should have already been formulated to mitigate the impact of the drought. Fluctuations in agricultural products can also be reduced by conducting crop inventories so as to prevent a food crisis,” he added.
Angat water level
Meanwhile, intermittent rains have kept the water elevation at the Bustos dam above its critical level but the water elevation at the Angat dam continues to drop.
Data of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) show that water elevation at the Bustos dam in the last three days remained at 15.98 meters above sea level (masl), which is a meter above critical.
But in Angat dam, water level dropped to 171.38 masl as of 6 a.m. yesterday despite weeks of cloud seeding operations and intermittent rains.
“The intermittent rains every afternoon help, but it is not enough,” NIA assistant operation engineer Precioso Punzalan said in Filipino.– With Dino Balabo