Answer to water crisis
At the April 1 Cabinet meeting, an effective answer to addressing our water crisis was provided. On April 2, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said: “A road map was presented which included immediate, medium and long-term interventions, such as doing an intensive campaign for the conservation of water and energy, and creating a department for water and a department of disaster resilience.”
Also, a proposed water executive order was presented to transform and strengthen the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) and create a National Water Management Council—a merger of NWRB and the River Basin Control Office. This EO can be signed and made effective immediately, without waiting for Congress approval.
Since the draft of the EO was presented in public consultations, I will provide here the details presented which make this EO responsive and effective.
Firstly , the 32 uncoordinated water-related government agencies will now be directed by a governing council chaired by the President, or his designated representative. The members will be from eight government agencies and there will be one representative each from the academe and private sector. The river basin office representative will bring in the LGU perspective. There will be an executive management unit with 12 field offices to ensure the unique regional perspectives.
Secondly, a technical working group will be created with representatives of government agencies, the private sector and the academe. They will develop a national water master plan and operationalize a common accessible data management platform linked to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Thirdly, the plans will be binding to all, strictly implemented and regularly monitored. All agencies will have performance indicators and targets with quarterly reports. Underperformance will be a ground for disciplinary action. All sources of water (surface water, ground water, rain water and flood drainage water) will be managed for productive use and environmental protection. There will be mandatory rainwater storage for all government buildings and new developments.
Private sector participants at the consultations expressed strong support for this order. Though not all these provisions may be adopted in the final EO, the direction of this Neda-supported EO incorporates most of the recommendations given by the private sector during the previous water summits.
Given that the water crisis occurs in different forms in different parts of the country, urgent attention must be given to 18 (of 412) major river basins. For 2017, 2018 and 2019, the average budget for each of basin was less than P1 million a year. In a discussion with private sector group Movement for Water Security, Senate environment committee chair Cynthia Villar said she could use the Senate’s oversight function to address this issue.
The multisector River Basin Management Council (RBMC) manages the river basins. This can be very effective if given the right support. It is made up of local government units, government agencies, and private sector. But at less than P1-million annual budget, there is no professional staff to support their directives, almost no capital equipment, and operating funds are inadequate.
The senator was surprised to find out that only P8 million was needed for each basin. That is because the direction given by RBMC would provide focus on the use of LGU and government agency funds. These funds, amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos, are not being efficiently used because of lack of unified direction.
On Dec. 18 last year, Cagayan de Oro RBMC’s Hilly Ann Roa-Quiaoit provided an example of how the fund can be effectively used. Roa-Quiaoit, who is the council’s executive director, wrote about three critical tasks that could be implemented with five full-time personnel, critical capital equipment and necessary operating funds.
The first is implementing the river basin’s master plan: “We do not have a full-time technical staff to come up with the five-year strategic activities and assign the different tasks among agencies. So the master plan is just on paper!” The second is operationalizing the council by activating the project management office (and technical working groups) to oversee and ensure the alignment of the plans of the LGUs and national government agencies. The third is adopting an inter LGU restoration for environmental services.
Two steps should be taken to address the water crisis. At the national level, the EO should be signed and implemented. At the local decentralized level, the RBMCs should be given adequate support by detailing full-time personnel, assigning capital equipment and providing the necessary operational funds.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.