(STAR)  President Arroyo is considering increasing emergency funding for government programs to address the debilitating effects of El Niño on the country’s food, water and power needs.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said Mrs. Arroyo was open to suggestions of some senators that supplemental funds in the budget could be used without resorting to emergency powers.

“This (increasing funding) is still being studied, especially on where these would be used as we are also awaiting more recommendations from the Department of Agriculture on the other measures to address our water needs and food situation,” he said.

Mrs. Arroyo is looking at other “available tools” to help mitigate the situation while the administration pushes long-term projects on power, water, irrigation, fisheries and agriculture, Olivar said.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro Jr. is pressing for implementation of Republic Act 6716 mandating the construction of rainwater catchments in every barangay.

“Sorry if they will say I’m politicking but the important thing to address right now is how our farmers and their families will eat,” he said in Ilocano.

The collected water can be treated or purified and used to supplement water requirements in critical areas during dry spells, Teodoro said.

Meanwhile, former economic planning secretary Ralph Recto sought a one-year postponement of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections scheduled for October so the government can use the P3.4 billion allocated for the polls to aid farms ravaged by El Niño.

“A mere delay of one year in the election of village executives will create budget space to help farmers hit by drought without creating havoc on our grassroots democracy,” he said.

“A one-year extension in the term of our kapitans (barangay chairmen) is manageable. Multiple extensions, in fact, had happened many times in the past.”

Farmers assured of water

The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) has assured rice farmers in Nueva Ecija and other parts of Central Luzon that enough water has been stocked in Pantabangan Dam.

Antonio Nangel, NIA Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation System (UPRIIS) chief, said “well observed procedures in water releases” during the height of storm Ondoy last year enabled the dam to stock up on water.

“As a matter of fact, some areas even plan to have a third cropping this year,” he said.

Nangel said by April, when the standing crops shall have been harvested, the dam’s elevation is projected to be at 194 meters, which is only 12 meters below the ideal “rule curve” level.

“Given the 102,550 hectares we programmed for this dry crop in 2010 and its total water requirement of 1,283.7 million cubic meters until harvest time in April, Pantabangan Dam is still at the ideal or safe level of 194.00 meters,” he said.

“With this water elevation, UPRIIS can still program around 25,000 hectares for third cropping called quick turnaround (QTA) or ratooning or both at the same time.

“Additional 25,000 hectares of farmlands can be sustained by our irrigation capability for another cropping from July up to December.”

Nangel spoke during a meeting with DA Central Luzon director Redentor Gatus and Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) director Ronilo Beronio.

Also present during the meeting were representatives from the National Food Authority, Land Bank of the Philippines, Bureau of Post Harvest and Research Extension, National Seed Quality Control Service, DA officials at the local level, and federation presidents of irrigators’ associations comprising the Board of Directors of the UPRIIS Confederation of Farmer Irrigators Associations.

Drought hits Pangasinan

Drought has affected at least 50 hectares of rice land and partially damaged another 3,800 hectares, according to the regional director of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

DA Regional Director Cipriano Santiago said Pangasinan might lose about 250,000 metric tons of rice because of the long dry spell.

The purchase of shallow tube wells might be of help but this is dependent on the availability of water in the ground, he said.

Meantime, the National Food Authority (NFA) in Cagayan Valley has allayed fears of a rice shortage.

This as the mammoth Magat Dam in the Isabela-Ifugao border dropped below the minimum operational level, which could result in the temporary shutdown of its power generation facility. – Paolo Romero, Ding Cervantes, Eva Visperas, Charlie Lagasca, Katherine Adraneda, Jess Diaz, Delon Porcalla, Jaime Laude

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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