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Robin, Bato want Marcos to name LWUA head to fix Marawi water issues

Senators Ronald Dela Rosa and Robin Padilla said they will ask President Bongbong Marcos to name an administrator for the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), after the agency's officer-in-charge said that its recommendations for water system project in Marawi City's Most Affected Area (MAA) are ready but cannot be acted upon without an administrator.

The lawmakers came up with the idea after LWUA Officer-in-Charge Eileen dela Vega informed the Senate finance committee that their hands are tied on the implementation of several projects for Marawi City as Marcos has not appointed a new administrator yet.

"Mayroon po kasi kaming mga recommendation na up for approval ng aming board pero sa ngayon po medyo hindi po nila maaksyunan because wala nga po kaming full-fledged administrator," Dela Vega said at the Senate finance committee hearing on LWUA's proposed P16-million budget for 2023.

(We have some recommendations that are up for approval of our board, but we cannot act on them yet as we do not have a full-fledged administrator.)

"As OIC po, I have limited authority. We have to submit 'yung lahat po [everything] as to releases and project implementation, sa board po namin [to our board]... Lahat naman po ng recommendation, nandoon na na-package na po namin ia-approve na lang po or aaksyunan na lang po. Habang inaantay po namin yun, nagpa-parallel activities po kami dito, in terms of construction na activities para sa Marawi," she added.

(All of our recommendations are already there, packaged, and just need approval or to be acted on. While we are waiting for these, we are conducting parallel activities, in terms of construction, for Marawi.)

At this point, Dela Rosa suggested to Padilla that they should personally ask Marcos to appoint a new LWUA chief.

"Siguro pupunta na tayong dalawa Malacañang. Kausapin natin si Pangulong Marcos na mag-appoint na ng permanent administrator para wala nang maging excuse itong LWUA," Dela Rosa said.

(Maybe the two of us should go there, to Malacañang. Let's urge President Marcos to appoint a permanent administrator so that LWUA will no longer have any excuse.) 

Dela Rosa opined that the people in Marawi City could be recruited by extremists if the government does not address these water issues in the war-torn area.

"We can't afford to have another Marawi siege...Alam namin ang limitasyon ninyo, pero ang tao doon sa baba, hindi po makaintindi kapag ganun e. Hindi [mo] masabi na ang OIC limited ang power, hindi makapirma ng mga kontrata," Dela Rosa said.

(We know your limitations, but the people down there, they don't understand about that. You can't tell them that the OIC has limited power, can't sign contracts.)

"Kaya very ripe itong situation na ito na ma-exploit ng mga extremist para ma-radicalize na naman yung mga tao sa Marawi at magkakagulo na naman tayo nito dahil lang sa tubig... What they need is water right away. Water na maiinom doon sa MAA. Kaya sana kung meron pa kayong available na elbow room or diskarte d'yan, diskartehan na ninyo ma'am para ma-start na natin ito," he added.

(So the situation is very ripe for exploitation by extremists to radicalize the people in Marawi and we'll have conflict again, just over water. What they need is water right away. Water that they can drink in the MAA. So if there is any elbow room or an strategy, try it so that we can get started.)

Padilla agreed to Dela Rosa's suggestion to bring this concern to Marcos but also said that there are several projects that have been funded since 2020 but with their implementation still pending.

Among the projects that Padilla mentioned are the Bulk Water Supply System, which costs P225 million; and the sewerage system, which was allocated P676 million.

"Laging sinasabi nila wala ang gobyerno sa amin, ang layo. Paano natin ipapaliwanag sa kanila na ang lapit sa inyo ng gobyerno kung ang budget na nandoon sa kanila, at yung proyekto na dapat sa kanila lalo na yung tubig na yun ang source ng buhay ng lahat, hindi natin maibigay," a visibly frustrated Padilla said.

(They always say that the government is too far away from us. How can we explain to them that they are important to the government if we cannot give them the budget and the projects for them, especially concerning water, which is the source of life?)

Dela Vega said they have already done what they can but they are only acting "within the ambit of their authority."

"Ang Marawi po talagang gusto na rin po naming hindi lang po maka-start, pero magtuloy-tuloy po at matapos na rin po sa madaling panahon pero meron pong stop na nangyayari but soon pag naglagay po ng full-fledged sana ma-hurdle itong obstacle na ito," she said.

(We want Marawi's rehabilitation not just to start, but to continue and be completed as soon as possible, but progress has stopped and we hope that as soon as a full-fledged administrator is installed, we can hurdle the obstacles.)

She then committed to fast-track the implementation of the Bulk Water System and the sewerage system construction once the board gives the go-signal.

"Ang pwede po naming i-commit sa inyo kapag ito ay lahat ay na-approve na, we assure you na talagang bibilisan po namin itong mga activities na ito kasi nag-dedicate na kami ng mga tao for the Marawi [projects]," she said.

(What we can commit is that when everything is approved, we assure you that we will speed up our activities because we have dedicated personnel to these Marawi projects.)

No response

Dela Vega further explained to the senators that when she was designated LWUA's OIC, the restrictions were specified and it included the releases of funds.

With the issuance of Memorandum Circular No. 3—which extended the tenure of officers-in-charge (OICs) of agencies under the Executive department until December this year—Dela Vega said she is not allowed to approve contracts, projects and extraordinary disbursements.

She said they already wrote to Marcos to exempt them from the coverage of the MC3 because of the urgency of LWUA's projects including those in Marawi City, and also to appoint a new chief in the agency.

However, Dela Vega said there has been no response from Malacañang.

Although Dela Vega asserted the need for a new LWUA administrator through Marcos' appointment, Padilla suggested that the LWUA Board of Trustees can elect a new administrator under the Government Owned and Controlled Corporations Law.

However, Dela Vega said only three out of five Board of trustee members are currently seated and Marcos needs to appoint two more members.

Padilla suggested meeting with the three board of trustees from the DPWH, the DOH and the DOF to get their consensus and discuss the possibility of approving the pending projects and electing new LWUA's administrator since three is still considered as a majority of the board of trustees.

Senate finance panel vice-chairperson Mark Villar, who presided over the hearing, said they can talk with the board members as they were his former colleagues in the Executive Department.

The Senate panel approved the LWUA's P16-million budget proposal at the committee level, but Villar said he is "surprised by the small amount" provided to the agency for 2023.

Dela Vega said they requested about P5.5 billion for 2023 for the improvement of water supply and the commencement of sanitation projects all over the Philippines outside Metro Manila. — BM, GMA News