House panel approves bill creating Department of Water
MANILA, Philippines – Despite opposition from various lawmakers, the House committee on government reorganization has approved a substitute bill that proposes the creation of a Department of Water.
Before the committee approved the still unnumbered substitute bill consolidating the numerous proposals on Tuesday, Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza insisted that creating a department would not immediately mean that the water supply problems experienced by the country lately, especially in Metro Manila, would be solved.
“This piece of proposal coming from you seemed to be misinformed and misdirected in their efforts to solve the problem of water,” Atienza told Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda during the hearing. “You seem to be putting up a position that creating a department would solve the problem.”
“Definitely we have a problem with water today […] creating a department does not address the problem squarely because right now, we don’t have a lack of water supply, it is wasted. It’s not allowed to flow into our household,” he added.
Salceda, one of the bill’s co-authors, led the technical working group which sat down to craft the bill.
Other lawmakers, including Deputy Speaker and Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta and Marikina 1st District Rep. Bayani Fernando also questioned the necessity of the said department.
Marcoleta, in particular, expressed fears that the creation of a governing body to handle affairs would be similar to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) — which promised low electricity prices upon enactment but failed to do so.
He also urged the committee to explore the possibility of harvesting water from seas and subjecting the saltwater to desalination.
“Big promises, naalala ko tuloy ‘yong bago natin gawin ‘yong Epira, brownout halos araw-araw, there’s a magic bullet here, meron tayong generation, transmission, distribution. Nasaan ang kuryente na mababa?” Marcoleta asked. “Mr. Chair, parang anino ng Epira ito eh, meron ding water regulatory commission dito eh.”
(I remember when we did Epira, there was brownout almost every day. We have generation, transmission, distribution. Where is the low electricty? Mr. Chair, this is like the shadow of Epira, there is also water regulatory commission.)
“Bakit po ‘yong Singapore, Mr. Chair, they have something like six million people […] bakit po apat ang sources ng tubig nila? Meron po silang water catchment, talagang pati ‘yong tubig ulan nila naha-harvest nila […] may importation, pati ‘yong used water nila naiinom nila, meron pa silang desalination.” he added.
(Why is that Singapore, Mr. Chair, they have something like six million people… why they have four sources of water? They have water catchment, even rain water is being harvested… there was importation, even the used water they can drink it, they have desalination.)
Salceda, meanwhile, admitted that there should be no need for such department only if the water problem was solved in the previous presidencies.
“Kasalanan ba ni (former president Ferdinand) Marcos? Opo. Kasalanan ba ni (former president Fidel) Ramos? Opo. Dahil po dyan sa Nuclear Power Plant na ‘yan, na kung susuriin mo ngayon siguro, kuhanin mo ‘yong present value ng mga pautang na ‘yan at binayad natin eh siguro po sana naiwasan ang gastos,” he said.
(Was this the fault of Marcos? Yes. Was this the fault of Ramos? Yes. Because of the Nuclear Power Plant, that if would review it clearly today, get the present value of the debt and pay it, most probably we have avoided the expenses.)
He also noted that the two concessionaires in Manila that the government would be working with — Maynilad and Manila Water — are good.
“Hindi katulad ng Epira, sa ngayon po mabait po ang dalawang private sector na kausap natin, ang Maynilad saka Manila Water. Noong Epira po halatang-halata mo dito sa bicam(eral conference), ang lakas ng mga masasabi nating vested interests,” Salceda noted.
(Unlike Epira, today we have two good private sectors, the Maynilad and Manila Water. During the time of Epira, it was obvious that in the bicam, vested interest was really intense.)
“Bakit? Na-postpone ‘yong open access, na siya sana bubuksan agad na kahit sino pwedeng magsupply sa Meralco (Manila Electric Corporation). Ibig sabihin no’n, ‘yong batas na ‘yon pilay na from the start pero kung hindi natin ginawa, hindi na tayo talaga makakalakad,” he added.
(Why? Open access was postponed, which could have been opened so that anyone can supply to Meralco. That means, that law was lame from the start but if we haven’t proceeded with it, we can’t move on.)
After the proposed measure was approved, it would be forwarded to the plenary for discussions before the House of Representatives votes whether to approve it or not on second reading.
This is not the first time that proposals to create a Department of Water were blocked, despite receiving backing from no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself.
Last June 2019, former House committee on Metro Manila development Rep. Winston Castelo said that if the intention was to create more water sources, then creating departments is not the immediate solution. /jpv
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