The failure of PH water governance

In the Philippines, water governance has failed. This is the conclusion of two Asian Development Bank water studies in 2013 and 2016. We were in the bottom third of a 48-country study. ADB said the water crisis was “not because of physical scarcity of water, but because of inadequate or inappropriate water governance.”

If we do not act swiftly, the Climate Change Commission warned that our situation would get worse with climate change. This is the subject of a CCC National Water Conference on Nov. 20.


There are good and bad forces inside and outside government. The good ones from both sectors must unite now against the bad forces.

Our water situation is critical. Seventy-three people die every day from water-related causes. Our rain harvesting is 4 percent, compared to India’s 60 percent in key areas. We have 5.7 million hectares of denuded forest and 300,000 lost mangrove hectares. reports that nine million Filipinos have no access to safe water and 19 million are without basic sanitation facilities. A Unesco study states: “Intestinal worm infestation in the Philippines goes up to 67 percent, higher than most countries in Southeast Asia. ”

We must hold accountable the bad forces in government responsible for this disgrace. Contrast them to the good government forces—including Secretary de Guzman, Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, who are exercising good water governance.

At 4 a.m. on April 16, 2016, President Duterte committed to the Agri-Fisheries Alliance that he would address the water situation if he became president. On June 20, 1017, he did so with the creation of a legislative, executive and nongovernment steering committee for a national water road map and summit. While there has been some progress, the overall result is very disappointing. Some in the executive department have betrayed PRRD’s mandate by not taking action on the committee’s seven key recommendations derived from seven subsectoral summits in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon, with each backed by a separate water subsector volume authored by a UPLB dean.

The good forces outside government can no longer wait as our water crisis worsens with climate change. They are now unifying in Movement for Water Security (MWS) to work with the government’s good forces to address the water issue.

On Nov. 6, two MWS initiatives were identified. The first is the implementation of a recommendation of the public-private Water Steering Committee. This is to support the globally effective river basin with critical watershed approach. The government has identified the priority 18 out of 412 river basins. Each has a well formulated master plan, approved by a public-private River Basin Management Council. But these have been largely ineffective because they have no full time staff and dedicated equipment. DENR Director Antonio Gayo and former UPLB chancellor and Nobel Prize co-winner Rex Cruz recommended P8 million per basin. This would cover at least five full-time personnel, capital equipment and operating expenses. Instead, they got only P800,000 for 2017, 2018 and, prospectively, 2019.

Cagayan River Basin Management Council cochair Bishop Antonio Ledesma said that with the P8 million budget, the council’s effectiveness could improve from a 4 to an 8 ranking on a 10-point scale. This is so that the proper mobilization of resources can take place. Water should also be addressed locally by the river basin with critical watershed approach to respond effectively to unique local situations.

The other initiative is a water governance improvement scorecard to be filled in by water constituents. This will be conducted by a credible organization which will collect scores and improvement suggestions on critical governance items.

The scorecard will then be submitted to the President and Congress for appropriate action.


The good forces inside and outside government must unite. They must demand accountability and appropriate penalties for the bad forces. Only then can the failure of Philippine water governance be reversed, and our water crisis overcome.

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TAGS: Asian development bank, water crisis
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