OFFICIALS of the Philippines’ National Economic and Development Authority and the National Water Resources Board along with private-sector consultants have called on Congress to create an administrative and a regulatory body responsible for nationwide water concerns.
Neda Assistant Secretary Roderick Planta said the push for the creation of a Department of Water as well as a Water Regulatory Commission was a product of consensus among various national agencies.
“We’ve been advocating for this for a long time,” Planta said in a press briefing. “We have presented this to many agencies and have recommended it to the Office of the President for endorsement as a priority legislative measure.”
He said having these two bodies was critical to the use and management of our water resources and was as necessary as having a Department of Energy and an Energy Regulatory Commission when it came to electricity.
“There are so many agencies—32 in all—involved in water and there is no single point of accountability,” Planta said. “There are overlapping mandates, which will just lead to inefficient use of water resources.”
He said that on the regulation of water services, there were also many entities involved such as the NWRB itself as well as the Local Water Utilities Administration, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System-Regualtory Office, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enteprise Zone Authority and the Bases Conversion and Development Authority.
NWRB executive director Sevillo David said the need for such agencies was made more urgent by the fact that the Philippines has been experiencing water stress for the past several years.
“The international benchmark is that a country should have water supply of at least 1,700 cubic metres per person per year,” David said. “Our per capita supply is below that at 1,446 cubic meters per year.”
David said the National Capital Region and Calabarzon region—which includes Rizal and Cavite, both parts of the MWSS east zone concession— were the most water-stressed areas with water availability of no more than 500 cubic metre per person per year. Such a volume is categorised as “absolute scarcity.”
Ramon Alikpala, former chair of MWSS and former executive director of NWRB, said that while there was fragmented regulatory framework, water supply and sanitation was not a priority of local chief executives.
Alikpala, who now runs his own consultancy firm Futurewater Asia, also lamented that water was used as a political commodity.
“There are conflicts between local government units and their water districts,” he said. “And consumers are caught in the middle of opposing governors and mayors, who appoint unqualified water district members.”
Alikpala’s support for a national department and regulator for water supply and sanitation was echoed by former agriculture secretary William Dar—who is now president of the advocacy group Inang Lupa —and Christopher Ilagan, president of Philippine Water Partnership, which is also a non-profit group.
Alikpala, Dar and Ilagan were among the experts that NWRB tapped to help in extensive workshops and preparations of reports over the past two years, which culminated in the National Water Summit held in Quezon City last week.
Former environment secretary Elisea Gozun, who facilitated the summit, noted that the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 states that the primary strategy for the water sector is to address the governance and to create that apex water body, referring to the department.
“And when Pagasa raises the El Nio alert, who (which agency) is supposed to prepare the plans to mitigate the effects,” Gozun said. “The responses would be disparate, unlike when we prepare for an electricity crisis, the DOE is mobilized and there is clearly a focal entity.”