Reposting our recent multimedia work for Manila Bulletin. This is all about the multimillion-peso irrigation project that is supposed to address the scarcity of water supply in rice farms this dry season which may have failed to serve its purpose during this El Niño phenomenon in three project areas.

(Note: To provide context on this video, here’s the detailed version of my story for Manila Bulletin.)

BAGUMBAYAN, Sultan Kudarat — In what is supposed to be designed to address the scarcity of water supply in rice farms this dry season, a P19 million-worth of state-of-the-art technology may have failed to serve its purpose in three project areas.

Touted as the flagship project of the Department of Agriculture, Secretary Emmanuel Piñol firmly believes that his flagship Solar Power Irrigation System (SPIS) project hopes to ease the irrigation supply problems during the long dry spell.

Thus, officials of  three host villages are appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte and Piñol to check on the issues that derailed the purpose of these costly projects.

No less than Piñol admitted in his Facebook page on March 15 that the two units in his home province of Cotabato are not working due to the scarcity of water supply as the El Niño phenomenon hit the region. He issued the statement after Philippine Star columnist Jarius Bondoc criticized him over the SPIS unit that  did not serve its purpose this dry spell.

“This is part of the learning curve as we embrace this new technology,” the DA chief wrote.

Except for the SPIS unit in Barangay Biwang of this town, village officials  said that the unit was reportedly tested but has never been used since it was completed sometime in November last year.

Speaking in behalf of the barangay council, Councilor Danilo Casa disclosed that the Department of Agriculture Region 12 has not formally turned over the P5 million worth of SPIS unit.

“Wala man kami ma training kung ano pag operate, nahadlok man kami mag hilabot kay basi maguba. Ka mahal-mahal sina ( We are not yet trained to operate it and we are afraid to try because we might damage the expensive unit),” Casa said in an interview.

Upon completion last November, the contractor performed a “flushing test” to show that the SPIS was working, he added.

Kagawad Casa believes that the creek has enough water to sustain the nearby farmlands.

Through mobile phones, the village officials bared that they have tried to reach out to the contractor and DA engineers several times for an update but they did not get any response.

But had the DA-12 trained the farmers, Casa added that the farmers may have already used it to irrigate the farmlands. Even this dry spell, he is confident that the source, which is a tributary of the Allah River, has enough water to irrigate the area.

A typical design of the SPIS unit is equipped with at least 10 horsepower pump, electronic controls to operate the pumps and solar panels mounted on top of at least 350 cubic meter-size reservoir. Lateral pipes are laid down across the field as means of water distribution.

Given the existing layout of the lateral pipes of the SPIS, Casa doubts that unit could irrigate more than eight hectares.

Manila Bulletin Mindanao Bureau has sought the comment of the DA-12 officials but they have not yet responded to our email as of 12noon of March 27.

SPIS unit’s pump in Barangay Biwang.


Useful but…

In Barangay Manubuan of Matalam in North Cotabato, village chief Mark Anthony Pulangco defended the SPIS unit saying that they have already used it in two cropping cycles before the water source, which is a creek, dried up early this year.

“Malaking tulong ito sa amin dito kaya lang El Niño ngayon kaya walang tubig ang creek ( The SPIS is a big help to us but due to El Niño, the creek dried up),” said Pulangco, whose family is one of the owners  who benefited from the SPIS unit worth P5.6 million.

For about 50 years, the ricefield depend on rain for irrigation but augmented by a diesel-powered water pump. “Maliit pa ako, wala talagang tubig dito kahit na mag drilling dahil malalim ang source. Kaya malaking tulong itong solar kaya lang walang tubig ang source ngayon (Since I was young, it is difficult to drill water here because the source is so deep. That is why the SPIS is a big help except that the source dried up due to El Niño) ,” explained the village chief.

Pulangco disclosed that the 50-year old Kubota engine consumes a liter of diesel per hour of operation just to irrigate the ricefield.

Every January to February, it has been a practice of the farmers in the area not to plant rice because the creek dries up and the diesel-powered pump could no longer irrigate the ricefield, he added.

But in preparation for the rainy season, Pulangco said the provincial government has funded the construction of the water impounding station beside the creek to be used as among the future source of water for the SPIS to be able to irrigate more areas.

Barangay Chair Pulangco says that in their previous two cropping cycles, the SPIS was only able to irrigate up to the row of kalamansi plants (upper left), about 300 meters away from the SPIS.

Asked if how vast the SPIS irrigated during the two cropping cycles, Pulangco admitted that it was around 15 hectares only.

“Kung madagdagan ang mga tubo, kaya siguro 40 hectares pero hanggang dyan lang sa mga kalamansi ang mga tubo (If there would be additional pipes, maybe it could irrigate up to 40 hectares. However, the pipes were installed up to that row of kalamansi plants only),” he added.

During the commissioning of the unit, Piñol posted on his Facebook Page that: “In 10 days, the whole 40-hectare rice farming area could be served by the SPIS which was constructed at a cost of P6.4-M and completed in just 60 days.”

“The reservoir could hold 350 cubic meters of water and irrigate 4 hectares of rice fields every day,” his Facebook post read.

Never been used

Village officials in New Janiuay in Mlang, North Cotabato also lamented that the SPIS unit have failed to serve its purpose among 38 farmer-beneficiaries as El Niño hit their farmlands.

The officials said that the SPIS has never been used since it was inaugurated by no less than the President himself on February 3, 2017.

Thus, the Barangay Local Government Unit have passed a resolution on March 11 urging Duterte to inspect the SPIS unit, said village chief Judy Palmares.

Palmares added that the farmers, who were supposed to benefit from the project, have complained why they cannot use the unit this dry spell. “Ginaasahan ni sang mga tao unta nga pag-abot sang El Niño, may patubig sila tani sa ila palayan (The farmers were hoping that the SPIS could irrigate their farms this El Niño”, the village chief lamented.

Palmares added that the water source, which is a pond, was not enough to irrigate its targeted area because it could dry up and eventually kill the fish in cages.

“Kami na barangay officials gahinayang sa kadako sang kantidad na hindi mapuslanon ang proyekto (We are disappointed that the farmers were not able to benefit from this project),” the village chief lamented.

In his Facebook post on February 5, 2017, Piñol claimed that :“Using a 10 horsepower water pump, the System is capable of submerging 10 to 15 hectares of rice fields in a day.

But Palmares debunked Piñol’s claim saying that the SPIS was only good enough to irrigate not more than half a hectare of ricefield.

Kagawad Quintero shows a broken part of the SPIS unit.

Village councilor Rogelio Quintero told Manila Bulletin that the SPIS has a lot of fixing to be done as some panels are apparently “missing” and some parts and wiring systems are broken.

He added that the rice farm owned by the Magbanua family about 30 meters away from the SPIS unit was dependent on a diesel-powered pump to be able to sustain the water requirement of the rice.

Quintero, who chairs the village committee on agriculture, said the owner spent so much because he utilized two diesel-powered pumps just to get water from the river at least 200 meters away.

In his Facebook post on March 15, Piñol confirmed that the SPIS unit in New Janiuay and in Manubuan are not working.

“We expected challenges because this is a new technology,” the DA chief added. “The unit in Manubuan, Matalam was used for two cropping seasons until the creek dried up while the unit in New Janiuay which was a proto-type is now undergoing corrective works because it did not operate according to standards.”

Saying that these units are not useless, Piñol said that the “drilling operations are now being done in one of these units to establish a new water source.”

Ongoing drilling operations beside the SPIS unit.

He further claimed that “water is expected to flow again within a month.”

However, Palmares could not say if the ongoing drilling operation is intended for the reservoir of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ (BFAR) fingerlings project or the SPIS. “Wala abi coordination sa barangay kung ano mga ginahimo nila dira (There is no coordination with the barangay officials on their activities in the area).”

The prototype SPIS unit  in New Janiuay is one the most expensive among the existing units in Region 12 with a cost of P7,998,725.

The DA plans to build 165 units, which has an average cost of around P6 million each, across the country, according to Piñol.

“Gusto lang namon ma-ayos na kay sayang ang kwarta sang katawhan kag mapuslan man sang mga tao. Indi pwede na kami na barangay officials magpabaya (We want it fixed because that’s peoples money and our constituents could benefit from it. Thus as barangay officials, we could not just ignore it),” Palmares appealed.


The photo of P7.9 million SPIS unit taken on March 25 in Barangay New Janiuay, Mlang, North Cotabato. Kagawad Casa says that some of the solar panels are reportedly ‘missing.’ No less than President Duterte led the inauguration of this so-called prototype unit on February 3, 2017.