When this writer stepped into the office of new Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) Administrator Guiling “Gene” A. Mamondiong for a quick chat recently, nothing really popped out.
Given that he’s only assumed office a few months back, it’s understandable that his office is as simple as it gets.
Then again, it’s not surprising at all, knowing that he uses a good chunk of his time out of the office—in the countryside where he says a LWUA administrator ought to be.
“Personal decision ko na talagang alamin ang mga problema ng mga water districts para malaman natin ano ang maitutulong natin, hindi ba?” said Mamondiong.
But the parallelisms don’t end there just because he opts to roam the provinces and not be a homebody.
In his jeans and plain white T-shirt, the amiable administrator shared with Manila Standard his plans for LWUA, which seems to mirror his personality— no-nonsense, unpretentious, far-reaching.
Within the decade, LWUA eyes the establishment of water districts in all municipalities and cities outside of the National Capital Region. This means helping set up at least 1,600 water districts in the next nine years.
“Ang sabi sa akin ng Presidente, dapat lahat ng munisipyo, lahat ng local government units ay magkaroon ng water districts on or before 2030,” the administrator said.
“And lahat din daw ng barangay dapat mayroong water system. Hindi kailangan na mayroong water district in every barangay pero atleast may water system,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Mamondiong a month after the untimely passing of his predecessor at LWUA, Jeci Lapus. Mamondiong became the first Muslim administrator of the agency after also having served as the first Muslim chief of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
A lawyer from Lanao del Sur, Mamondiong also served as transportation undersecretary during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos and President Gloria M. Arroyo.
Although newly appointed, Mamondiong says he is not new to the issues surrounding water, especially in his native Lanao del Sur.
“Alam ko na ang problema sa tubig, kasi nga doon sa Mindanao problema ang water eh kaya nga pumunta ako sa LWUA noong panahon ni President Cory para magtanong about sa state ng water districts sa amin.”
Now as LWUA head, he strives to know every concern faced by the water districts. Our interview with him in his office was in fact, sandwiched between official visits to the different water districts in Luzon. This comes off the heels of trips to Mindanao in his first few weeks as LWUA administrator.
This he feels, is the best way to know the situation on-ground. The biggest problems? The agency is undermanned and does not have enough funds to provide services in the whole country.
“Dito sa LWUA kasi, we’ve been trying to make sure that LWUA is efficient in serving people. Ang problema dito, undermanned po ang LWUA. Pangalawang problema, napag-alaman ko, na ang sinisweldo pala, ang operational expenses ng LWUA ay galing sa interests,” he said.
He bared that the bulk of LWUA’s revenues come from loan amortizations of local water districts. Mamondiong went on to say that he has recommended to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to help the agency push for a P15-billion revolving fund approval before Congress.
Apart from having more elbow room to work with, Mamondiong also said that tapping the private sector isn’t a bad idea in the wake of water woes in the countryside.
“We are advocating for the private sectors to help us in providing water districts or water systems in unserved and underserved areas. Sa ngayon hindi natin kakayanin bigyan lahat ng munisipyo na wala pang water districts, kung walang tulong ang private sector.”
Asked about former LWUA administrator Lapus’ push for a department of water, Mamondiong says that the proposal shows plenty of promise.
“Napakagandang panukala yan, dapat magkaroon ng Department of Water, napakaganda kasi mas mapapadali ang proseso sa pagpapatupad ng mga programa sa ahensya,” he said.
“We need it as soon as possible, dahil kagaya ng sinabi ko, mas malala ang magiging problema ng ating bansa kung wala tayong tubig, lalala yan, this is a life issue, not just a health issue.”