Senators back congressional probe on water shortage

By Hannah Torregoza

Senators on Wednesday said they support a congressional probe on the supposed water shortage problem affecting parts of Metro Manila and Rizal province.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said he would order an investigation into the matter saying he too wants clarification from water concessionaires regarding their conflicting statements.

A volunteer fighter gives water out of a pumper to affected residents of Barangay Oranbo, Pasig City, March 12, 2019, as NGO firefighters and tankers provide water rationing to help minimize the adverse effect of low water supply. (MARK BALMORES / MANILA BULLETIN)
A volunteer fighter gives water out of a pumper to affected residents of Barangay Oranbo, Pasig City, March 12, 2019, as NGO firefighters and tankers provide water rationing to help minimize the adverse effect of low water supply. (MARK BALMORES / MANILA BULLETIN)

“Dapat alamin ‘yan, we will have to find out, ano, imbestigahan natin ‘yan. Ano ba ang dahilan bakit nagkakaganun (We need to know, we will have to find out, we need to investigate. What is the reason why this is happening),” Sotto said in a DZBB interview.

“Sabihin ko sa proper committee para mag-conduct agad ng inquiry (I will talk to the proper committee so we can conduct an inquiry immediately),” he said.

Reelectionist Senator Nancy Binay, for her part, pressed for a full inventory and audit of rainwater catch basins.

“Where are the 100,000 barangay rainwater catch basins?” Binay pointed out in a statement.

“El Nino is here and the water crisis is real, imminent and prevalent. Thirty years since Republic Act No. 6716, we want to know how many out of the 42,000 barangays have rainwater collection system (RWCS) gusto nating malaman kung ilan sa mahigit 42,000 barangay ang meron rainwater collection system (RWCS) na ginawa ng gobyerno,” Binay stressed.

RA 6716 is the law that provides for the construction of water wells, rainwater collectors, development of springs and rehabilitation of existing water wells in all barangays in the Philippines that was enacted in 1989.

Rainwater harvesting is not only for the provision of potable water and for agricultural and industrial purposes, it is likewise being advocated by environmentalists to mitigate the effects of climate change, conserve water, help normalize the water cycles and as mitigating measure against floods.

“The program should have been completed back in 1991, but it seems we don’t have that sense of urgency and just let the law sleep for 30 years,” Binay said.

Binay urged the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) to make a joint inventory and audit of all RWCSs to check how many of the 42,000 barangays have complied with RA 6716.

Binay said the DPWH, which is the lead agency of a task group on rainwater conservation, is given a yearly budget for the construction of RWCSs and rehabilitation of water supply systems.

In the proposed 2019 national budget, the department has an allocation of P1.27-billion for RWCS projects.

“We wasted 30 years when each barangay should already have the capacity to resolve their problems on flooding and at the same time, water scarcity problems during dry months,” she stressed.

In this regard, Binay said the government failed in constructing 100,000 water wells, cisterns, and other types of rainwater harvesting facilities and catchment systems which should have been installed within the premises of public markets, public schools, farms and barangays with no existing water supply or where the source of water is scarce or limited.

“The Philippines is blessed with water, but why haven’t we made any significant step forward in mainstreaming climate change adaptive measures in our water systems,” she lamented.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, another reelectionist lawmaker, also backed a Senate inquiry into the matter even as he called for long-term solutions to meet the country’s growing water demand.

Angara expressed concern over the ongoing water service interruptions across the concession area of Manila Water, causing inconvenience to many businesses and residents.

“It’s very concerning. We have to ask a certain number of questions because we get conflicting reports. Is it a problem of service delivery?” Angara said in a statement.

Manila Water, which covers the east zone of Metro Manila and Rizal province, has advised its customers to expect more water interruptions in the following days due to limited water supply as El Niño begins to set in the country.

But while Manila Water had been suffering supply woes, Angara noted its west zone counterpart Maynilad is not.

“One service provider is saying there is a problem, the other says none. That is something, I think, the regulators should investigate,” Angara pointed out.

Angara said Congress should also look into the water shortage problem with the end view of coming up with long-term solutions to ensure adequate water supplies amid the country’s rapidly rising population and continued economic development.

“With the growing population and we all have these economic conditions, there will be a growing demand in the Greater Manila Area,” Angara said.

“You really have to look at your supply many years down the road. That is something Congress can look into,” he stressed.

Likewise, Angara underscored the need for structural reforms in the water sector as he noted that some 30 agencies of the government are currently involved in water and sanitation policy.

He said the current setup is inefficient with jurisdictions overlapping one another.

“I think we really need a high level of discussion whether our underlying philosophies are valid and whether these agencies are serving the people well,” Angara said.