Decentralized—but guided—water governance | Inquirer Business

Decentralized—but guided—water governance

A decisive national direction, together with local community empowerment, is required to propel our nation toward a prosperous “bagong lipunan.”

An indication of this direction was seen during the July 19 water summit spearheaded by Dindo Manhit of Stratbase ADR Institute. The new national government-guided direction was given by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Carlos Primo David.

He explained that the new digital technology, which showed a complete mapping of our country’s rivers, creeks and streams, would guide resource distribution.


The decentralization component was highlighted by DENR Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga. She emphatically stated that “water is a shared responsibility of the community,” and therefore, the natural direction must be operationalized and implemented by each local community with its unique needs and solutions.



For agriculture, extension work was transferred under the jurisdiction of local government units, except they were not guided effectively by the national government. Consequently, many of our 17,000 agriculture extension workers did not follow a national direction. With this lack of focused technology transfer, we transformed from a global agriculture leader to an agriculture laggard.

Fortunately, this is now being corrected through the Department of Agriculture (DA)-guided Provincial Agriculture and Fisheries Extension System.

For water, there is a serious lack of local empowerment. It has been shown in many countries that effective water governance is done through local public-private sector River Basin Management Councils (RBMCs). RBMCs coordinate public and private water plans in various areas.

Our 18 strategic RBMCs, however, can’t work effectively with a low annual budget of just P2 million each. An RBMC leader said that with a P10-million budget, necessary coordination can be implemented to harness the billions of pesos in water initiatives.

Prior studies

The water governance studies of the Asian Development Bank in 2013 and in 2016 saw the Philippines rank in the bottom third of 48 countries. To improve the results, a public-private water governance committee was created for 2017 to 2018. Representing the government were the Office of the President, which served as chair, and members from five departments (DENR, DA, Department of Public Works and Highways or DPWH, Department of Interior and Local Government, and National Economic and Development Authority). From the private sector were the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Agriculture Alliance (AA).

Comprising AA is the Alyansa Agrikultura (representing farmers and fisherfolk), the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food (agribusiness) and the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (science and academe).


The coordination gave way to seven water summits that churned out a seven-volume report, with each volume signed by a dean of the University of the Philippines Los Baños. This helped increase our water governance rating of “1” in 2013 to a “2” in 2016 and then a “3” in 2020 (out of the highest score of “5”).

Three priorities

Government priorities have already been identified. The first is an apex body that will coordinate 32 water-related government agencies. This was addressed through a legislative priority ironed out during the President’s State of the Nation Address last year and the creation of a National Water Resource Management Office under the DENR last April 27.

The second requirement is effective water harvesting. While India collects 60 percent of its water, we collect only 4 percent.

Fortunately, David announced at the forum that a significant part of the P276-billion DPWH budget for flood control would now be “repurposed so [there] will no longer be dikes but water impounding projects, small water hydro dams, and reservoirs for water supply of communities and irrigation.”

The third requirement is local empowerment through the RBMCs. This is the only requirement that has not been addressed. It is hoped that this time, Congress will approve the necessary budget for the 18 critical RBMCs.

Without local empowerment and focused implementation, our water governance will continue to suffer.
 Climate change is upon us, with the onset of El Niño its most obvious and devastating manifestation. It is about time we have an effective water governance, with guided decentralization as its essential feature. INQ

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry.

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Contact is agriwatch_phil@yahoo.

TAGS: Commentary, water

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