By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said on Wednesday that community-owned water districts should be included in the government’s economic assistance programs to ensure continuous water supply in provinces.
In a statement, Recto stressed the role of water districts in ensuring the safety and well-being of the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These frontline utilities supply a basic need for which there is no substitute. Kung walang tubig, paano maghuhugas ng kamay (If there is no water, how will people wash their hands)? If water is essential to the anti-pandemic fight, then we must see to it that those who supply it are financially buoyant,” Recto said.
Due to the deferment of the payment of utility bills, as well their own decision to relax collections, Recto said the water districts now face “cash flow problems”.
“Maraming water districts, lalo na ‘yung mga maliliit, ang may liquidity problems (Several water districts, especially the smaller ones, are having liquidity problems), he said.
Recto said that unlike Metro Manila water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water, which have “a reservoir of resources” to help tide them over during the quarantine period, water districts do not have a “deep well of funds”.
“These districts serve small towns and rural areas which water conglomerates find too unprofitable to operate in,” he also noted.
According to the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), there are 515 water districts operating in the country as of December 2015.
More than half of them are in “Category D,” with less than 3,000 connections.
“Although they are required to keep a financial reserve that can meet three months of operations, most of them do not have this cushion,” Recto said.
He said the various economic stimulus packages being proposed before Congress should include a provision “distinctly addressing what relief should be given to water districts.”
“Can their loans be refinanced? Ano ang mga posibleng tulong para tuloy-tuloy ang kanilang service expansion?” Recto asked.
Aside from water districts, local governments also face the same problems, Recto said.
“When the local budget is depleted by pandemic expenses, when low water consumption brought about by the closure of business establishments leads to a dip in water revenues, and when collection suffers because of the staggered payment policy, all of these add pressure on the LGU budget,” he explained.
“We can survive without broadband, even without electricity— but water, like food, is essential for man’s existence,” he said.