A bucket of hope: Addressing water supply and sanitation issue for a Bagong Pilipinas




Last May 7, 2024, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (PBBM) held a sectoral meeting on our country’s water resources and management with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), and the Water Resources Management Office of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-WRMO). Created by virtue of Executive Order No. 22 issued just last year, April 27, 2023, DENR-WMO is tasked with integrating and harmonizing the different programs of the various government agencies with water-related functions such as the National Water Resources Board, Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUAA) and the network of local water districts, and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

During the meeting, the DENR-WRMO mapping and inventory revealed that 40 million of our population lack access to formal water supply — accessing water from springs, creeks, and some, even relying on rainwater for drinking. For PBBM, this was unacceptable. Thus, I applaud PBBM for directing the DENR-WRMO and relevant agencies to focus on the 40 million underserved population, most of whom residing in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and ensure they are provided with sufficient water supply.

I also agree with the President that an integrated water resource masterplan and managing water resources are essential during El Niño and the impending La Niña. Thus, I fully support his directive to DPWH to integrate the agency’s flood control management projects, such that water is conserved and used for other purposes, including irrigation and hydropower; the continued development of NIA dams for multipurpose use; as well as for relevant agencies to explore foreign funding for identified priority investment areas for local and international stakeholders.

World Bank study

Last year, we met with World Bank (WB) Country Director Dr. Ndiamé Diop, who presented the WB’s final report on the Advisory Services and Analytics (ASA) proposal for a National Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) Program titled, “Ensuring Sustainable Water Supply and Sanitation Services and Building Climate Resiliency.”

The proposal seeks universal access to safe water supply and sanitation services in the Philippines by 2030, following the 2022 World Bank ASA’s “Strengthening PH Water Supply and Sanitation Services.”

It analyzes and recommends a national water supply and sanitation program, addressing institutional fragmentation, financial policies, and capacity building, and offers recommendations to launch the implementation of the 2021 Philippine Water Supply and Sanitation Masterplan, which was developed through the National Economic and Development Authority and in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Mainly, it recommends creating a national WSS program and working within the current sectoral environment, with key policy reforms that will not require legislation. It also highlights the need for strengthened and sustained partnership between the national government and local government units (LGUs). After all, failure to meet WSS targets is a national concern.

The study suggests prioritizing funding for poor LGUs with high poverty incidence, lagging LGUs with WSS coverage of less than 50 percent, and projects with economies of scale, based on the Supreme Court Ruling on the Mandanas-Garcia case and Executive Order No. 138, s. 2021 (Full Devolution).

On our part, aside from providing funding support to agencies, the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of the Interior and Local Government launched the Support and Assistance Fund to Participatory Budgeting (SAFPB) Program on Feb. 21, 2024, with P1 billion allocated under the Local Government Support Fund in the FY 2024 General Appropriations Act. The program aims to expand access to safely managed and resilient water and sanitation services in lagging municipalities nationwide, all the while empowering LGUs and boosting the administration's efforts to realize a responsive, accountable, and effective national budget. This is in response to PBBM’s directive to assist our kababayans by providing potable water and sanitation services.


Department of Water Resources

I highly appreciate that one of PBBM’s priority legislative agenda for the 19th Congress, under the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028, is the creation of the Department of Water Resources (DWR). Currently, there are over 30 water-related agencies, with overlapping and occasionally, conflicting responsibilities for the nation’s water resources. I believe this will solve coordination concerns between government agencies and the many resource users, thus preventing “siloed” planning and policymaking. By consolidating all water-related government responsibilities and separating resource control from economic regulation, the DWR will resolve the fragmented institutional framework in the sector.

At the House of Representatives, House Bill No. 9663, or the National Water Resources Act, an act establishing the National Framework for Water Resource Management and creating the DWR and the Water Regulatory Commission (WRC), has been approved on its third and final reading on Dec. 12, 2023. I hope for the immediate passage of the consolidated bill that will streamline water-related functions in the government and create new unifying institutions with a DWR to be the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing, monitoring, and administrative entity, and a WRC to rationalize economic and administrative regulation of water utilities.

Beyond budget, I believe that water is the most important resource we have as an archipelagic country. It gives us a bucket of hope. As citizens, let us do our part in conserving water by using it responsibly. On the part of the government, rest assured that any threat to and issues on its supply, sanitation, and sustainability will be braced with a whole-of-nation approach, just as PBBM has directed concerned agencies to do. Further, with or without weather phenomena, we need a Department of Water Resources to pave the way for access to potable and sustainable water supply and sanitation for all, ensuring the health of our kababayans and a vibrant Bagong Pilipinas.