By Mar S. Arguelles
LEGAZPI CITY --- Speaking at the first of a series of consultations tackling water supply and wastewater management issues, Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal, Focal Mayor for the Environment, Climate Change, and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management of the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP), on Tuesday emphasized the important role of local governments in addressing water-related issues in localities around the country.
Addressing over sixty representatives from local government units (LGUs), local water districts (LWDs), and national government agencies at a roundtable discussion (RTD) dubbed “Local Development means Local Involvement: The Role of the LGUs in Water and Wastewater Management” in the Oriental Hotel in Legazpi City, Mayor Rosal said that the supply of accessible, quality water was a local problem that required local solutions.
“We know the importance of water. What is important is the basic programs that we have to do nowadays, especially with regard to water - this is really very crucial,” said Rosal, an engineer by profession.
According to Rosal, “the essence of the problem right now in the whole nation starts at the lowest member of the locality. Dun palagi ang source ng problema. (That is always the source of the problem.)”
Rosal narrated how the booming Albay city had encountered difficulties with the quality and accessibility of local water supplies, a problem shared by many mayors in the region. Rosal said that the problems encountered by Legazpi City were now being addressed with the help of the LWD and a private sector partner.
Aside from Mayor Rosal, also in attendance were Sorsogon City Mayor Sally Lee, Bacacay Mayor Armando Romano, Cataingan Mayor Felipe Cabataña, Jose Panganiban Mayor Ricarte Padilla, and Paracale Mayor Lourdes Briguera. LWD executives from all of Bicol’s six provinces also participated in the activity.
The Legazpi City RTD is part of a series of round table discussions (RTDs) that are being organized in key areas in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao to consult local government unit (LGU) officials, local water district (LWD) executives, and other stakeholders to better understand and define the role of the LGUs in local water resources management and development.
The convenors of the project include the Philippine Water Partnership (PWP), the National Water Resources Board (NWRB), the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP), the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), and ISTTATEHIYA.
PWP Chairperson Nathaniel Santos said that one of the common problems cited by the participants was the need of LGU officials to coordinate with national agencies based in Metro Manila.
“When faced with issues involving water resources management, LGU execs lament that they have to travel all the way to Manila to work with national agencies like the NWRB. Perhaps some of the functions of the NWRB can be decentralized to the local governments; the point is an applicant from Mindanao should not be forced to go all the way to Quezon City to secure a permit from the NWRB,” said Santos.
Santos said that when it comes to the functions of national agencies like the NWRB, “it’s either you devolve, you decentralize, or you deputize.”
The lawyer said that “the local development means local involvement solution is possibly the most viable and appropriate response to the problems that come with the current centralization of water supply and wastewater management protocols.”
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.
Water distribution in majority of the country is dependent on separate LWDs, each with their own respective plans, regulations, and policies. Private investors who want to partner with these LWDs have to work with LWDs and LGUs to develop water supply projects to serve local communities. The present setup requires coordination with around 30 government agencies.