Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito yesterday sought the protection and conservation of watersheds nationwide to address the widespread periodic droughts that threaten the country’s agricultural production and food supply.

In filing Senate Bill No. 2748, or the “Protection of Watershed Supporting the National Irrigation System (NIS) Act,” Ejercito said the Philippines need to protect the 143 watersheds supporting the 165 national irrigation systems (NIS) by giving the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) primary jurisdiction over these areas.

Based on his bill, the DENR, through the Bureau of Forest Management, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture (DA) through the NIA, shall have exclusive and primary jurisdiction, control and management on all identified watersheds supporting the national irrigation system.

The senator said there is a total of 4,318,172 million hectares in the country, more or less, that need to be maintained and rehabilitated.

“The water that comes from these watersheds areas and flows to the River Systems provides irrigation water to rice lands and other agricultural lands planted of different crops,” Ejercito said in a statement.

There are only about 483,820 hectares, more or less, being serviced by the 143 river watersheds, but based on the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) data, 868,509 hectares of agricultural land are being irrigated and roughly 368,000 hectares of these have existing facilities but need restoration and rehabilitation.

“With the ongoing drought experienced by many provinces in our country which threaten our agricultural production and food supply, this proposed bill is very timely to promote and protect the various watersheds that provide the socio-economic base to a growing population through the utilization of watershed resources,” Ejercito said.

“I hope that the leadership of both Houses and the Executive Department will realize that this proposed bill caters to the basic human needs, like water and food, and a law like this should be passed not only for ourselves but for the other generations to come,” he added.