A joint panel in the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a substitute bill proposing the creation of Department of Water Resources that is eyed as a long-term solution to water crisis.
The House committees on government reorganization, and on public works and highways approved the bill after consolidating the 35 proposed measures on the subject.
One of the bill's proponents, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, underscored the need for Congress to enact a measure that will ensure a "reliable, safe, quality and affordable water supply."
“Water is a basic human right. Water is a public utility so it should be regulated by the government, ” Salceda said.
Under the proposed law, the DWR shall be the primary national agency responsible for the comprehensive and integrated planning, policy formulation and management of water resources in the Philippines.
The bill also calls for the creation of the Water Regulatory Commission, an independent regulatory and quasi-judicial body, and shall be an attached agency of the the new department.
During the hearing, Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza of Buhay thumbed down the creation of DWR, saying "creating a department will not solve the problem. Creating it only delays the solutions."
Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco also welcomed the passage of the DWR that will primary focus on the country’s water resources.
Velasco, author of House Bill 4897, said the creation a new agency is needed to stave off a shortage such as the recent one that affected thousands of families in Metro Manila. Maricel V. Cruz
“Unfortunately, the management of the country’s water resources remains fragmented and uncoordinated with over 30 government units and agencies at national and local levels implementing separate and disharmonized policies, plans and programs to develop and operate water facilities and infrastructure for various uses, regulate water use and set tariffs, and monitor water-related parameters,” Velasco, chairman of the House committee on energy, said.
Velasco cited a 2015 World Resources Institute study warning that the Philippines will likely experience a "severe water shortage" by the year 2040.
Under the substitute bill, the functions of the following key water agencies– River Basin Control Office Manila Bay Coordinating Office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Flood Management Planning and Sediment Functions of the DPWH, Water Supply and Sanitation Unit of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and Water Quality Management Section of Environmental Management Bureau (EMB)- DENR will be transferred to the DWR.
Under the bill, the following agencies shall be attached to the new Department:
Metro Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) and National Irrigation Administration (NIA) as an infrastructure arm.
“The Department can enter into contracts, joint ventures, MOUs & MOAs to invest in and/or in financing of water-related projects,” it said.
In the 17th Congress under Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the leadership also approved the proposed Department of Water amid the new round of water service interruptions hounding several parts of Metro Manila and nearby areas.
The measure primarily aims to strengthen and coordinate water resource planning and policy-making to make the allocation and use of water resources sustainable and fair.