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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Notes on a DOH/NAPC/DILG Water Supply System Training

Thanks to my former colleagues at the DILG-CAR, I had the privilege of serving as documentor for a “Seminar-Workshop on the Preparation of Simplified Feasibility Study for Water Supply System” held at Hotel Supreme on 22-24 June 2011. 

Over a hundred participants – mostly local government functionaries, including planning and development coordinators, engineers, water supply supervisors, water district managers, water sanitation coordinators, and health officers – took part in the three-day training.   The trainees represented the following LGUs: Cagayan (Santo Niño, Pamplona), Nueva Vizcaya (Santa Fe, Kayapa); Pangasinan (Aguilar, Bolinao, Urbiztondo); Abra (Tineg); and Apayao (Calanasan, Conner, Flora, Kabugao, Pudtol, Santa Marcela). These 14 municipalities are among the 19 towns in Region I, Region II and the CAR which are tagged in the Aquino Administration’s Sagana at Ligtas na Tubig sa Lahat Program (Abundant and Safe Water for All). For 2011, the Program is prioritizing 115 LGUs across the country based on the following criteria: (1) Access Level-  highest percentage of  HH without access to safe water; (2) Poverty Incidence - highest number of  population of Conditional Cash Transfer recipients; and (3) Incidence of Waterborne Diseases – highest incidence per 10,000 population.

The three-day activity is spearheaded by the Department of Health (DOH) in partnership with the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the LGUs concerned. Now on its third year of implementation, the Program used to be lodged with the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) and was known as “President’s Priority Program on Water” under the Arroyo regime.  The PhP 115-billion project seeks to “increase access to potable water supply services coverage to at least 50% in waterless municipalities.” (“Waterless municipalities” are defined in the Program’s nomenclature as those “having  households with less than 50% access to safe water.”)  It also targets a 20%-reduction in the “incidence of water-borne and sanitation related diseases” and a minimum of 10% increased “access of the poor to sanitation services.”

Technical Officers Ezequiel Serrano (WSSU-DILG), Luis Cruz (DOH), Ashley Antonio (DOH), Cynthia Ambe (NAPC), Engr. Jose Carmelo Gendrano (NAPC), and  GOO V Filipinita Galvez (DILG-CAR) did an excellent job orienting the participants on the basics of the workshop and the Program itself. 

Among all the lecturers/trainors though, Engr. Antonio De Vera -- former LWUA Administrator and now ADB consultant and SBMA Water Regulatory Board chair -- was (hands raised, eyes closed) the Guru around whose feet we wide-eyed disciples gathered for enlightenment on the esoteric aspects of Engineering and water supply systems, particularly Project Development Cycle, Demand Projection, Water Resources, Applied Hydraulics, Water Treatment and Disinfection, among others. 

While marveling at the breadth and depth of his expertise on  his topics as well as the ease and clarity of his presentations, LGOOs Odemar Cawis and Johnny Mauting of DILG-CAR and I were wondering whether we all would have become number crunchers had he been our professor in Mathematics, especially in Algebra and Trigonometry.  I, for one, lost interest in Math early in life because of the classroom trauma I had to experience under teachers who could do the maths in their heads but couldn't get these into the hearts of their students. Oh  just now I remember, there was one really great professor at Saint Louis University (SLU), Mr. Liberato Mayo, whose Trigonometry class I really enjoyed for the first time after having lost all interest in the subject many years before that.  He was such a kind, brilliant, effective mentor who made computing for  sines and cosines like munching strawberries. Sadly, as my academic passion then centered on the literary I soon forgot the formulas, only the memory of having felt how studying Math can be a pleasurable episode in one's college life.

But back to apo de Vera. One of the things I liked about Engineer de Vera was his fun and funny way of illustrating theory through real-life, grassroots-based situations he personally knows throughout his decades of work with various communities here and abroad -- all of which are aimed at identifying pitfalls and finding practical solutions to problems in water system projects.  One of the many significant cases he cited was that of a PhP 60-M water system in an LGU which failed simply because of inadequate water supply from the spring. As it turned out, the spring’s water volume was measured during the rainy season and therefore did not take into account the significant reduction of water supply during the dry season.  Another was a right-of-way and land ownership case where the seller reneged on his promise to sell leaving the LGU wasting its project development plans.  

Of course, enjoying Mr. de Vera's lectures didn't really mean I understood everything he said.  Well, in fairness to me I did try doing one of his formulaic exercises but I wasn't really up to it no matter how easy some engineers in the workshop hall thought the computations were.  And I learned some facts too about water source development and water treatment which I may very well use in my classes to make my students think I know a lot haha.

If all water supply systems project implementers and administrators were as forward-looking as Engineer de Vera, I think much of our  resources  earmarked for these public works could have been saved or optimized. And this could have been the case in any other infrastructure projects of the government. And come to think of it, here are LGUs applying for PhP 2-/5-/10-M projects while countless local, regional and national officials and politicians are splurging billions of our money on themselves!  At sila pa ang mga aroganteng nagpapaharurot ng kanilang mga mamahaling sasakyan sa ating mga bako-bakong lansangan, ohah? Hay, sabi nga ng mga kaibigan nating mga Intsik, MEI BANFA!
But even in the implementation of these water supply projects, the greedy, greasy hands of very enterprising folks have created problems already.  The NAPC reported that there are LGUs where water was inequitably distributed (with some unscrupulous farmers punching holes in pipes and diverting the water to irrigate their ricefields), and where project materials were overpriced as high as 120%.  It's a good thing though that with the NAPC's effective monitoring, cases of overpricing in the canvass forms were uncovered and dealt with.  One can't be sure, however, if there are other forms of corruptions done in the implementation of these projects as we very well know that the corrupt in our communities never lack the diabolic creativity to find ways getting their dirty hands into public funds for their personal use.

Having said that, I think "Sagana at Ligtas na Tubig" is truly commendable.  What I also like  about it is that it isn't just another dole-out program as the recipient LGUs are required to allocate an equivalent of 10% of the total project cost in cash or "in kind" (e.g. office space  and utilities, heavy equipment, labor and materials, services of staff, food and facilities). With the DOH, NAPC and DILG working together to ensure the effective implementation, monitoring and maintenance of these water supply systems, there is a great chance that the Program's targets will be met.  

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