DoF urges private partners, LGUs to back P1-T water security plan


THE government’s water security plans for 2030 are expected to require investment of P1 trillion, too large for the Treasury to undertake by itself, Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said, inviting the participation of the private sector as well as local governments and overseas funders.

“Last year, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) introduced the Philippine Water Supply and Sanitation Master Plan. This plan serves as a blueprint to achieve universal access to safe, sufficient, affordable, and sustainable water supply, hygiene, and sanitation by 2030,” Mr. Diokno said in a recorded video message at the “Sustainable Path to Water Security for the Philippines” event on Tuesday.

“The plan calls for a total investment of over a trillion pesos… This would require a harmonized orchestration of investments and increased participation from the private sector, international development partners, as well as local and national agencies,” he added.

At the same event, NEDA Assistant Secretary Roderick M. Planta said that while the initiative will require P125 billion annually, the government can only provide about P7-P10 billion from the General Appropriations Act each year.

“Government cannot do it all alone,” he said.

Mr. Diokno said that the government’s current financial strategy is focused on revenue generation and measures to protect the environment.

He cited the issue of sustainability global bonds worth $1 billion and sustainability samurai bonds worth $600 million, both of which were met with strong demand.

“To complement these efforts, we are building the capacity of our local governments for the formulation and implementation of sustainable development projects on the ground,” he added.

However, Mr. Planta said that only three provinces are on board with NEDA’s Philippine Water Supply and Sanitation Master Plan.

“So, while we say that we have a water security game plan… at the subnational level (it) needs to be articulated even further,” he said.

Rafael Francisco Amparo, executive director of the Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines, said that rural banks can contribute in narrowing the financing deficit in local water districts.

“One of our projects was to lobby for guarantee support for riskier credit. It would make banks more comfortable if government guarantee programs were backing them up,” he said.

Carlos N. Santos, Jr., general manager of the Santa Maria Water District in Bulacan, expressed doubts about the capacity of rural banks to finance local water districts amid their regulatory constraints.

“Lone water districts are government-owned and -controlled corporations. We are subject to the rules and regulations of the Commission on Audit, the local water utilities administration, as well as the monetary board of the central bank,” Mr. Santos said.

“We need to go to all these agencies of government to be able to get the necessary funds. Normally, it takes us around eight to 12 months to get these funds.”

Mr. Santos said that the General Appropriations Act should provide a special fund that local water districts can draw from.

“The vital shareholders of this master plan are the local water districts nationwide. If we do not sustain and reach the goal by 2030, we’re all going to fail, and we cannot do it without the necessary funds.”

Mr. Planta said that while nine out of 10 families have access to basic services involving treated water, there are still regional variations in service quality.

“Basic sanitation is (accessible to) eight out of 10 families, (but) there are areas that are worse off.”

NEDA’s Philippine Water Supply and Sanitation Master Plan also proposes the creation of a Department of Water, “a focal institution for planning and for policies.”

“We are so stuck with our own administrative data collection, and without that department, everybody is just minding what they are collecting,” Mr. Planta said, noting the multiple regulators overseeing 27,000 water service providers.

“What is happening with the master plan is that we’re institutionalizing the data collection mechanism at the center, and looking also at the mechanism at the subnational level because we also aggregate data from them,” he added.

Meanwhile, Senator Maria Imelda Josefa Remedios R. Marcos, who also spoke at the event, said that the administration should evaluate the necessity of a new department given the fiscal constraints.

“What I have recommended is that we begin with a water resources and management authority, hence limiting the numbers of undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and other bureaucrats,” Ms. Marcos said.

“Simply focus on the problem at hand, which is water management; (the) integration and unification of policies as to the distribution and management of limited water resources,” she added.

In his first State of the Nation Address in July, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. cited the establishment of the Department of Water as a legislative priority.

“We will also look into the precarious fresh water supply situation, especially in our urban areas.  Many of our water supply systems date back to the 1950’s, and they must now be rehabilitated and improved,” Mr. Marcos said in his address.

“I have instructed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources together with the Department of Public Works and Highways, to explore possible partnerships with the private sector to address this crucial situation.” — Diego Gabriel C. Robles

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