By Jun Ledesma

Strengthen the Water Districts

February 3, 2020, 5:38 pm

THE Philippine Association of Water Districts is holding its 41st National Convention in Davao City this week. If not for the emergence of the novel-corona virus which took the world by storm the controversial issues surrounding the supply of potable water, unconscionable profiteering of concessionaires from consumers and government could still linger in the air. In short, nCoV effectively doused water into the raging controversy and that will give Ayala and Pangilinan a good night's sleep.
What makes this PAWD event important is precisely on account of the control of water supply by what Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte identifies as “Oligarchs”. While his focus in on Manila Water and Maynilad however, he is seemingly not aware that close to a hundred water districts all over the country are already under the control of Prime Water Infrastructure Corp. owned by the Villars. Consumers of the two concessionaires of Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System have incessantly complained of high rates and inadequate water supply. On the other hand, Prime Water clients complained of the below-standard quality of water they get. 
If not for the decision of the Singapore-based Arbitration court where MWSS and its concessionaires elevated their conflict on rates and money claims, President Duterte may have been in limbo about how the consumers and the government had been ripped off by its own regulatory body and the concessionaires.
I cannot exclude MWSS in the monumental swindle because it attempted to defend the concessionaires when threats of water shortage in Metro Manila loomed. Until Duterte later divulged to the public that the concessionaires had been collecting billions of pesos from its consumers for a ghost sewerage project  MWSS, as a regulatory body,  was suspiciously remiss in questioning, if not, stopping the collections.  Why should it be Duterte all the time?
So far we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg in the reported took over of some 70 Water Districts by Prime Water. Why the Local Water Utilities Administration allowed this to happen could easily partake of millions of reasons. But take a hint from the directive of Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra to his USEC Emmeline Aglipay Villar to inhibit from participating in the discussion that pertains to Maynilad, Manila Water and Prime Water. Her husband, according to Guevarra, sits on the board of LWUA  which is an attached agency of the Department of Public Works and Highways.
Water Districts are bankable institutions for where the operate every one patronizes them and pay for every drop of water they consume. That is why the Davao City Water Districts need not even put up a single nail as collateral because lending institutions are certain it can settle obligations.
LWUA could have come to the rescue of WDs that are in distress and then provide them with management assistance. I recalled that the Philippine Business for Social Progress even helped source out funds for WDs who needed financial assistance. LWUA also has a wide latitude where to tap cheap money.
There are too many regulatory bodies with redundant and overlapping functions. I and am sure that these were created in the past for political accommodation. Since President Duterte is in the process of implementing reforms especially on the water sector, he might as well consider collapsing all these agencies and place it under a DEPARTMENT OF WATER. And this involves the dissolution of LWUA, MWSS, the National Water Regulatory Board.
Water is life and in the face of threats of nCoV among the important pieces of advice of health, authorities are not to get our throats dry. They explained that dry throat is the virtual entry point and spawning ground for the virus that eventually enters the lungs and causes havoc leading to death. The President is absolutely correct. Water should not be considered as a commodity for it is a natural resource. To maintain and sustain the status quo is immoral. To keep these inutile government agencies is insensible. Strengthen the Water Districts by making it viable and the only way to assure this is to create a Department of Water.


About the Columnist

Image of Jun Ledesma

Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.