With the supply of clean and potable fresh water soon to be a matter of serious concern in the country’s 122 cities and 1,489 municipalities, local governments should be empowered to address issues involving water supply and distribution as well as wastewater management.
Speaking at the 65th General Assembly of the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) in Taguig, Philippine Water Partnership (PWP) Chairperson Nathaniel Santos said on Tuesday that after consulting mayors in a series of roundtable discussions (RTDs) organized by PWP around the country, the overwhelming sentiment is that local government units (LGU) should be given more authority to decide and act on matters that involve providing their constituents with clean water.
“For the water sector, the mayors we have consulted with share the same sentiments: decentralization just makes sense––for our constituents, for our environment, and for our country,” said Santos, whose organization, PWP, is a non-government organization affiliated with the Global Water Partnership, which assists the government and provides a neutral venue for discussions on integrated water resources management.
“One mayor from Bicol succinctly summed it up: water is a local concern that requires a local solution.”
Data from the NWRB show that the total annual freshwater resources in the Philippines amounts to around 149.5 billion cubic meters per year, while annual consumption, according to the World Bank, is estimated at 81.6 billion cubic meters. Santos said that “while at present there appears to be a comfortable annual supply of fresh water, it is not always available where and when it is needed.”
“In 1998, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and NWRB projected that 9 major cities, including Metro Manila, Davao, Baguio, Angeles and Bacolod, are already or may experience water constraint by 2025 due to resource degradation, increase in population and rapid urbanization. This is slowly becoming a reality as we are already experiencing water shortage in certain parts of the country every time there is El Niño. The situation is also likely to worsen as water demand grows as a result of population growth and regional economic development,” warned Santos.
Santos emphasized that with the Duterte administration focused on bringing development to the regions outside Metro Manila and on pushing for the adoption of federalism, it was necessary for LGUs to become better equipped to deal with the increasing demands for water.
According to Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, one of the outspoken supporters of federalism, as development in the regions accelerates, “local governments must be given the capacity to address the increasing demands of economic growth, like basic services like water.”
“The challenge for all LGUs is to ensure the availability of water supply to keep pace with economic growth. It is getting increasingly clear that local empowerment is necessary to fuel local development; this, we believe, is at the heart of the growing clamor and interest in transitioning to a federal system of government,” said the senator from Mindanao.
The PWP held a series of consultations, dubbed “Local Development means Local Involvement: The Role of LGUs in Water and Wastewater Management,” in key cities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
“The decentralization and devolution of water management decisions and responsibilities to LGUs find legal basis in Republic Act No. 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code of the Philippines. LGUs, simply put, are mandated to ensure that basic services, including water supply, drainage and sewerage, are efficiently and effectively delivered within their territorial jurisdiction,” Santos explained.
Santos told members of the LCP that “decentralization and devolution of water management decisions are not just sound policies that benefit your constituents; these are policies that are consistent with the principles of local autonomy.”
“The bottom line is that LGUs play the most significant role in ensuring water services in their jurisdictions because they are the ones most affected and are in the best position to make certain water management decisions.”