Velasco pushes to streamline water regulatory agencies

QUEZON CITY, Philippines – Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco is pushing for the creation of a body that would streamline the economic operations of all water regulatory agencies.

According to Velasco there are several agencies doing economic regulation which includes the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage System (MWSS), Local Government Units (LGUs), the National Water Resources Board (NWRB), and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).

Velasco, who is expected to replace House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano in over a year from now, said that apart from NWRB, regulators have conflicts of interest in their dual role as financier, as in the case of LWUA or as direct service providers, as in the case of municipal or city governments thus effectively practicing self-regulation.

“This Bill, mentioned by President Rodrigo Duterte as a priority measure in his State of the Nation Address, intends to address the issue of fragmentation through the rationalization of the economic and administrative regulation of water utilities through an independent, quasi- judicial body called the Water Regulatory Commission,” Velasco, currently the chairperson of the House Committee on Energy, said.

The Marinduque lawmaker explained that among the functions of the proposed body is to enforce service coverage and quality of performance targets, toward the objective of providing every Filipino safe water supply and adequate wastewater services.

The speaker in waiting noted that based on the 2015 Family Income and Expenditure Survey of the Philippine Statistics Office, 87.2% of the population has access to water from formal providers, but only 43.6% have piped connection, 11.2% use communal faucets and the remaining 45.2% rely on point sources.

The remaining 12.8% of the population use various means of getting water including fetching water from rivers, digging shallow wells or buying vended water.

Velasco lamented that on wastewater treatment services, water utility firms have a dismal coverage.

“Roughly only four percent of the population is connected to sewerage systems. It is only in Metro Manila where the service providers, in this case private concessionaires, have a program for septage management services and future plans to put in place improved wastewater treatment collection and treatment services,” Velasco said.

He said that the inadequate safe water and wastewater services result to significant economic losses, attributed to health costs, losses from tourism and fisheries industries. “Diarrhea, the most significant waterborne disease, remains as one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the Philippines. It could easily be prevented if we have clean water,” the lawmaker pointed out.

But access to clean water is not only the problem, Velasco said adding that the water supply level of service (i.e., from point sources or communal faucets to piped connection) and quality of service such as achieving twenty-four hour supply, adequate pressure and drinking water quality has also to be improved considerably.

“While there are many facets to the problem, poor economic regulation has been identified as a critical structural weakness in the sector, the lawmaker said.

Velasco expressed disappointment that due the lack of or poor enforcement of economic regulations, water utilities are not compelled to expand coverage or improve quality of service, tariffs are not set rationally, operations are not efficient and few service providers are financially viable.

“The inability of the formal service providers to expand coverage encouraged ‘work-around’ solutions that eventually aggravated the problem including spawning of many small-scale water service providers,” he said.

Based on the nationwide registry of water service providers, there is an estimated 23,603 water service providers from 1,451 municipalities and cities in the Philippines, 90% of which have connections of less than 5,000 households. Hence, by and large there are no economies of scale resulting to inefficiencies and inherent limitations for growth.

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