Press Release
August 16, 2015


Sen. Francis Escudero is calling on national government agencies to prepare alternative employment and emergency assistance for farmers that would be affected by the prevailing El Nino conditions this year, which the weather bureau predicts could be the worst in the country's history.

Escudero said agencies such as the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) should be more proactive, unlike the Department of Agriculture, which failed to use its budget to prepare farmers for the impact of El Nino.

"Our farmers are going to need all the help they can get in the coming months, and national agencies should be ready to work with local governments to pull our farmers through this difficult season," Escudero said in a media briefing in Daet, Camarines Norte, one of the provinces that will experience an extended dry spell.

The senator urged TESDA to provide farmers with agriculture-related technical and vocational skills training so that they can find other sources of income when working at the farm proves to be unproductive.

The DSWD, meanwhile, should ensure that families of farmers affected by the drought will receive financial assistance through the government's Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or the 4Ps, the senator said.

"The government has to be proactive and prepare for the worst-case scenario. Our farmers have to be given all kinds of assistance to make up for the projected crop losses because of the drying up of farmlands," said Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

According to Escudero, the Senate finance panel which he used to head, has made available around P5 billion for 2015 to the DA to address the problem of El Nino through interventions such as the Small Water Impounding Project, which was meant to improve irrigation facilities in preparation for the dry months, but the department failed to do its job.

"Dapat gumalaw na sana at kumilos ang Department of Agriculture dito, pero base sa aming pagsusuri noon, napakabagal ng pagkilos ng DA para matugunan ang problemang ito dahil sa underspending. Tila natatagalan silang ma-release ang pondo," Escudero said.

(The Department of Agriculture should be in the forefront of this, but based on our analysis, the DA has been very slow in responding to this issue as manifested by its underspending. It's very slow in releasing funds for this purpose.)

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has warned that the present moderate El Niño conditions could intensify by the end of the year and even surpass the strength of the 1997-1998 event, which was the worst El Niño episode in the Philippines.

The 1997-1998 El Niño episode caused severe drought in 70 percent of the country and damaged some 292,000 hectares of rice and corn plantations. It cost the agriculture sector at least P3 billion in damages, according to PAGASA and the South Australian Research and Development Institute.

The weather bureau has warned that El Niño conditions could become stronger starting October and peak by November or December when the sea surface temperature in the tropical Pacific will become far hotter than the average.

In its rainfall forecast for August 2015 to January 2016, PAGASA identified the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, Mt. Province, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Aurora, Metro Manila, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, Quezon, Occidental Mindoro, Romblon, Camarines Norte, Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Iloilo, Basilan and Sulu as the first areas that may experience way below normal rainfall in October.

By November, the dry spell would hit Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Bataan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Metro Manila, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Romblon, Palawan, Aklan, Antique, Guimaras, Iloilo, Capiz, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Cebu, Biliran, Leyte, Lanao del Norte, Sarangani, Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Sulu.

By December, the provinces of Abra, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao, Mt. Province Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Aurora, Metro Manila, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, Quezon, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Romblon, Palawan, Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Eastern Samar and Sulu would feel the impact of El Niño.

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