By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

WATER SECURITY. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. inaugurates the Balbalungao Small Reservoir Irrigation Project in a ceremony in Barangay San Isidro in Lupao, Nueva Ecija on Wednesday (Dec. 13, 2023). In his speech, Marcos said he ordered the completion of water-related projects by April 2024 in preparation for the impact of El Niño in the country. (PNA photo by Joey Razon)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Wednesday bared that he has directed concerned government agencies to complete water-related projects by April 2024 in preparation for the impact of the El Niño phenomenon.

During the inauguration of the Balbalungao Small Reservoir Irrigation Project (BSRIP) in Lupao, Nueva Ecija, Marcos noted the urgency to make sure the country is ready for the possible effects of El Niño, including reduced rainfall and drought.

“We must be prepared to counter these effects, which may last until the second quarter of 2024. So, we remind once again the DA (Department of Agriculture) and the NIA (National Irrigation Administration) to immediately complete the construction of irrigation facilities, as well as other supporting structures based on the needs of our farmers,” Marcos said.

“Iniisip ko ‘yung mga project na gagawin natin. Meron tayong apat na buwan para tapusin lahat iyan, maging operational lahat iyan dahil ang ginawa kong deadline para sa ating mga departamento, ‘ika ko sa kanila, ang isipin natin, ano ba ang kaya nating matapos by April of next year (I’m thinking about the projects that we will do. We have four months to finish all that, make it all operational because the deadline I made for our departments, I told them, let’s think, what can we finish).”

Vital projects, such as the BSRIP, will help address the effects of El Niño, which may cause a shortage of water and power supply, he said.

The BSRIP, boasting an expansive 840-hectare service area, is designed to foster sustainable development for the benefit of 562 farmers and their families residing in Balbalungao, San Isidro, Salvacion, Sto. Niño, and Mapampang villages in Lupao town.

Marcos said the construction of the Balbalungao Dam signifies his administration’s commitment to developing modern infrastructure systems that would enhance the agriculture sector.

“Once fully operational, this multi-purpose dam will provide irrigation for close to 1,000 hectares of agricultural land,” he said. “The dam will generate diversified income opportunities to increase crop use, fish culture, tourism, and watershed management for environmental protection.”

Marcos also emphasized that the BSRIP would facilitate hydroelectric power generation and serve as a flood control mitigation infrastructure for the communities along the river.

He directed the DA and the NIA to ensure the timely completion of the other facilities of the BSRIP, such as the hydropower and watershed components.

He enjoined all government agencies, local government units, and the private sector to work together to secure the sustainability of water resources and the ecosystem that surround the reservoir.

“That integrated watershed management plan serves as your guide in monitoring, protecting, and conserving the Balbalungao water shed to prolong the land’s service lifestyle,” Marcos said.

“Anticipating the success of the BSRIP in transforming the province’s land into a thriving hub of productivity, we remain steadfast in our pursuit of food security, poverty reduction, and economic growth.”

The government, he said, is aiming to establish more than 275,000 hectares of new irrigation areas to restore about 80,000 of existing irrigation areas by 2028.

“As we envision a more secure, sustainable, and resilient Philippines, let us harmonize our efforts to ensure the continued empowerment of our producers, progress for our industries, and advancement for the entire country,” he said.

President Marcos also underscored the role of farmers and fisherfolk in the attainment of “Bagong Pilipinas” as he led the inauguration of the BSRIP.

“Sa ating mga magsasaka at mga mangingisda, ang inyo pong tulong sa pagpapaunlad ng agrikultura at ekonomiya ng bansa ay kailangan upang makamit natin ang Bagong Pilipinas na ating pinapangarap (To our farmers and fishers, your support to developing agriculture and our country’s economy is needed to attain the Bagong Pilipinas [New Philippines] that we dream of),” Marcos said during the launch of the multi-million project in Barangay San Isidro.

Implemented by the NIA, the construction of the PHP893-million earthfill dam hurdled the challenges of restrictions as the country was under a national health emergency due to Covid-19 in 2020, specifically by the Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation System (UPRIIS) then under the stewardship of engineer Rosalinda Bote as department manager.

“Umaasa akong patuloy kayong magiging kaagapay ng gobyerno sa pagbibigay ng mas masigla, maunlad at masaganang kinabukasan para sa bawat Filipino,” Marcos said after explaining government actions in cushioning the effect of El Niño phenomenon. (With a report from Marilyn Galang/PNA)