Senators set probe of P121-billion unfinished irrigation projects


Senators are poised to open a full-blown inquiry into allegedly unfinished projects, among other anomalies, for which taxpayers spent a whopping P121 billion in just five years.

Senators weighed in on the issue after Sen. Raffy Tulfo delivered a privileged speech exposing the multi-billion projects of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) that were cornered by alleged favored contractors.

These contractors, which shortchanged the government by not finishing the projects, were even blacklisted by NIA earlier but somehow got the projects from the government.

From 2017 until 2022, the NIA released a total of P121 billion for anomalous unfinished projects, Tulfo reported, as he urged the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to investigate this “long-standing” corruption at the NIA,

“I agree that by effectively implementing a national irrigation program, we can guarantee better food security for our country,” Tulfo said.

The senator said he would not mind having government spend billions for irrigation, if such would boost food security and help farmers, but not the waste worth  billions of public funds

Majority Leader Joel Villanueva bared the irrigation agency’s lack of capacity to spend allocated funds worth billions of pesos for irrigation projects that are supposed to help farmers nationwide.

He recalled being among those who pushed for a law  many years back, exempting farmers from paying irrigation fees, precisely to boost their productivity.

“I think it is fair to ask: What is NIA’s current status on our country’s irrigation development as promised by Republic Act (RA) 10969 (Free Irrigation Service Act), and at the same time to answer issues of accountability and transparency,” he said in English and Filipino.

Meanwhile,  Sen. Villanueva drew attention to the recent PAGASA forecasts that El Niño, a seasonal abnormal weather pattern that causes droughts in the country, is likely to turn up as early as June this year, and may last up to the first quarter of next year.

“We have time constraints. We want to be sure  that funds are used properly and wisely,” the Senate Majority Leader said, stressing that.”most of all, we want our citizens in the agricultural sector to benefit from it.”

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III backed Tulfo’s call to use the budget process to hold accountable different government agencies, particularly the NIA.

Pimentel made the manifestation following Tulfo’s privilege speech. “I would advise NIA to better prepare to answer questions from all of us come the budget process,” Pimentel said.

Image credits: Voltaire F. Domingo/ Senate PRIB