Malaybalay eyes P115-M irrigation project

The amount excludes additional counterpart of at least P1.17 million for feasibility and detailed engineering study for the project that will cover at least 500 hectares of rice lands in Managok and two other villages.

Water for the so-called Small Water Impounding Project (SWIP)-Managok Communal Irrigation System would be sourced from the Langgasihan River.

The city council approved two resolutions Tuesday to form part of the requirements set by the World Bank-funded Mindanao Rural Development Program (MRDP) in a session that saw Mayor Florencio T. Flores Jr. assuring there would be no need to loan for the project even if it has remained an option.

Flores clarified that the WB fund will be a grant, not a loan. The city government would have to fund the other half of the project that will be implemented by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

Borrowing for the city's counterpart, he said, is just an option and that the local finance committee has yet to meet to discuss the issue.

Rica Carcueva, city accountant, assured councilors of the availability of funds, which means there might be no need to loan. "But it is really up to the mayor if we are taking that option," she told Councilor Conrado Barroso during recess of the session before Flores came in at noon.

The estimated P115-million project cost is adjusted to current prices. Based on a feasibility study in 2002, the project cost was estimated at P80 million.

Flores said the actual cost may either go up or down based on the detailed engineering study.

But the same has been subject of the inquiry launched by legislators, especially councilor Jimmy Gellor and Vice Mayor Ignacio Zubiri. They have questioned the proposal to issue an authorization when the cost of the project is not fixed.

Flores, however, assured the council there is enough surplus funds from the 20 percent development fund that could be used for the cost adjustment.

The city council passed a resolution expressing intent, willingness, and commitment to adopt the MRDP and authorizing Flores to enter into a memorandum of agreement.

The other resolution was for the city government to provide counterpart funding for the 50 percent of the project cost.

Among the questions raised was whether passing the resolutions would bind the city already to the project where the cost is not yet fixed.

Flores said passing the intent to enroll at the MRDP and the authorization would not be binding.

"At any stage we may decide not to proceed," Flores said, citing the city government's decision in 2003 not to proceed with a loan package for the Kibalabag water project, at that time with a proposed loan from the World Bank.

"We are not going through this half-blinded. We have a fall back position just in case we don't want to push through," he said when Vice Mayor Zubiri pointed out the provision in the wordings of the forms being complied.

Another point questioned during the session was the rush to beat the deadline for submission of the WB requirements set on February 9,
or a day before the session.

Councilors wanted to seek for an extension to subject the proposal for further study but City Agriculture Officer Andrew Bergado said there could be no more extension.

The project was described as advantageous to the city because prior proposals to build irrigation project was bucked for lack of funding from the NIA.

"This will double the productivity in the area and help in the livelihood of farmers there," Councilor Amado Estrada told the city council in his presentation.

Estrada, who chairs the city council committee on agriculture, said the project redeems the dependence of farmers to rain-fed irrigation system.

Bergado said they will source water from the Langgasihan River and assured that existing irrigation initiatives will become part of the SWIP.

He dismissed a concern raised by councilors on the capacity of the river to supply irrigation water when the area has a depleted watershed.

Councilor Victor Aldeguer questioned the sustainability clause considering it is a multi-million project and water might not be enough.

"Langgasihan survived several El Niño occurrences in the past," Bergado noted.

Zubiri said there could be a parallel effort to undertake a reforestation project along with the irrigation project.

Bergado told this reporter there is still no timeframe for the subject since they would await the WB-MRDP's approval of the city's intent.

He also assured no displacements would occur if the project is pursued since the impounding dam would be built in government property in Langgasihan.

City councilors questioned the mechanics of the grant and the local funding source after Councilor Amado Estrada presented the need to pass the resolutions on February 10.

The second phase of the MRDP promises to release at least $130 million for infrastructure in Mindanao. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)