SAN SIMON -- At least eight towns in the province of Pampanga and another in Ifugao were placed under state of calamity due to damage to crops caused by the El Niño phenomemon.

In Pampanga, the dry spell threatened 14,000 hectares of rice crops ready for harvest and the occurrence of “fish kill.”

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Representative Anna York Bondoc-Sagum (4th district, Pampanga) said Friday the towns of Candaba, San Luis, Apalit, San Simon, Minalin, Macabebe, Masantol and Sto. Tomas through their respective municipal councils and local chief executives will be declaring a state of calamity next week.

Bondoc-Sagum said farmers in these towns are already experiencing the lack of water supply, which threatened their crops and fishponds with “fish kill” throughout the district.

“Thousands of farmers in our district whose crops were devastated by the recent Typhoon “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” lost 12,000 hectares of rice harvest and now the El Niño phenomenon is again threatening them, if the Department of Agriculture (DA) and National Irrigation Authority (NIA) do not do something about it, marami na naman mapipinsalang mga pananim at kawawa naman ang mga ortelano natin (many will suffer from the damaged crops and it’s a pity to our farmers),” Bondoc-Sagum said.

She said in the towns of San Luis, Apalit, Candaba and San Simon some 3,397 hectares of rice crops ready for harvest are threatened by the drought as water coming from the Angat Maasim River Irrigation System (Amris) is reportedly being diverted for domestic use in Metro Manila.

The lawmaker urged the National Water Resource Board (NWRB) to allocate water sources to affected farmers in order to save their crops, saying that domestic water consumption is important but food security is also of paramount importance.

“Unless we institute urgent measures now, more than 3,000 hectares standing crops will be destroyed. That’s more than 3,000 starving families. Hindi land sila makakaani, magkakautang pa sila (They just don’t their harvest but they will incur debts as well) because they have already spent for fertilizer,” Bondoc-Sagum said.

She said that some of the solutions that should be undertaken is to connect upper Pampanga River Irrigation System and the Amris system with an initial funding of P20 million, purchase systems for those that can’t be connected to the irrigation source and negotiate the water rights with NWRB.

Bondoc-Sagum said she will appeal to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to help her cabalens (provincemates) in this time of crisis, saying that farmers have very little time before their crops are totally destroyed by the drought.

San Simon Mayor Rodrigo Canlas lauded the efforts of Bondoc for the farmers, saying that what is needed is the collective effort of all concerned agencies like the NIA, DA and Office of the President.

In nearby Ifugao province, Alfonso Lista Vice Mayor Clarence Polig said of their cornfields were greatly affected by the long dry spell.

“The farmers here are very pitiful and they are already knocking at our doors for help since this is a big loss for them especially so that corn is one of the main crops of this municipality,” Polig said.

Engineer Michael Tegui-in, technician of the Provincial Agriculture Office said in Alfonso Lista alone, 7,319.60 hectares of farmlands were damaged by the El Niño. The crops mostly corn and some palay are already in reproductive/vegetative stage.

Based on the partial assessment of crop damage submitted by the Municipal Agriculture Office, cost of the damages amounted to P23,783,500.00, Tegui-in said.

Alfonso Lista, along with other low-lying areas like Aguinaldo, Lamut, and part of Lagawe are the hardest hit by the long dry spell.

Tegui-in said most of the crops are rain-fed thus the agriculture department is trying to save the crops by cloud seeding.

Provincial Veterinarian Dr. James Gopeng, on the other hand, said ranch owners should begin selling their animals so that they will be able to gain a little from it rather than for the animals to die one by one as the dry season starts to attack not only agriculture but livestock.

“Most of the diseases acquired from the long dry spell is black leg,” Gopeng said.

The animals suffer from dehydration as streams, rivers and brooks, where these animals drink, are drying up and lack of food because grasses are withering due to extreme heat, he added. Most of the ranches are found in Aguinaldo, Alfonso Lista and Lamut.

Gopeng disclosed that the owners of the livestock can feed their animals with crop residues to save them from starvation.

Meanwhile, more than 300 farmers staged a rally at the DA office in Quezon City Friday urging the government to have more “justified” response over the El Niño phenomenon.

“We are here because the government has not been serious and justified on its response over the El Niño phenomenon. We feel very bad that the government did not listen practically to the farmers’ demands. The farmers are now suffering so much,” Antonio Flores, auditor of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said.

The Isabela-based farmers’ group Danggayan Dagiti Mannalon ti Cagayan Valley was also joined by members of indigenous groups and fishermen who complained for the P1.7-billion calamity fund that has not yet been released.

From Quezon City, the group marched to Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang to call on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to provide urgent relief from the El Niño stricken provinces.

KMP estimated the damage to rice crops to about 323,629 metric tons, valued at P5.198-billion due to extreme drying out and non-irrigation.

The agriculture sector, which roughly makes up for about 20 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), will bear the brunt of El Niño.

Data from the DA reported that as of February 17, the dry spell damaged P3.7 billion worth of crops.

Aside from Isabela, the other 13 provinces affected by the dry spell are Cagayan, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino in Northern Luzon; Bulacan and Nueva Ecija in Central Luzon; Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque and Romblon in the Mimaropa area or Region 4-B; Masbate in Bicol; and Antique, Guimaras and Negros Occidental in Western Visayas.

Last February 20, the agriculture department allotted an initial P882.18 million to fast track the implementation of mitigation measures for farmers and fisher folk on the said provinces.(Chris Navarro of Sun.Star Pampanga/Vency D. Bulayungan of Sun.Star Davao/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)