Owns Our Water?
Marcos Water Code or Presidential Decree 1067 purports that all water found
within, beneath and above Philippine territory belongs to the state. Anyone,
however, can have access to it, according to P.D. 1067, except those who plan to
draw large quantities that should then be the subject of a water permit from the
National Water Resources Board (NWRB). But water-distressed communities are
finding out that securing a water permit is not only a tedious process. It is
likewise putting them at a gross disadvantage over large private companies that
are into water solely for profit.
FELICISIMO H. MANALANSAN
Mangili has every reason to be disturbed in behalf of at least 30,000 residents
of Itogon, Benguet, a province in Northern Luzon’s Cordillera region.
the past four years, he says local water sources from natural springs and
Itogon’s Gumatdang River have shown signs of drying up. In an interview with Bulatlat.com,
he expressed apprehension that their situation is about to get even worse.
because, he says, Benguet Corporation (BC) has taken it upon itself to reserve
all the water resources in their municipality in an ambitious yet
environmentally controversial plan to supply all the water for Itogon, all the
way to Baguio City.
grand plan to become the biggest private water distributor in the Cordillera
region, says Mangili, or Ka Ampy to the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA)
where he serves as vice chairman, is generating a lot of controversy. The plan
reportedly eases out the locals and supplants their traditional methods of
drawing water for free through natural mountain springs with privatized piped
water for a fee.
bares that although Benguet Corp. has already little by little been compromising
the people’s source of fresh mountain water because of its Danum
bottled mineral water project, the people are more anxious over Benguet’s plan
to shore up all the water in Itogon. The water is to be stored in a reservoir
that used to be the mining firm’s open pit mine and mine tailings dam uphill
in the company’s abandoned Antamok mine, also in Itogon.
plan targets to supply and distribute water for the whole of Itogon as well as
Baguio City’s 250,000 residents which double during the summer months. The
city’s water needs are currently supplied by the Baguio Water District but the
latter, according to BC, could only supply about one-third of Baguio’s daily
minimum water requirement of 110,000 cubic meters.
as early as in 1991, ecologist Erlyn Ruth Alcantara disputed BC’s idea to use
Antamok as a water reservoir.
say that its (Antamok) tailings dam can become a water reservoir is perhaps the
most outrageous, if not asinine, scheme that Benguet Corp's think tank can ever
conceive,” states a part of that study. Alcantara cites 20,000 orphaned mines
in the U.S. where she said “many old mine sites continue to create
environmental problems in the form of acid drainage into streams, lakes, and
underground water supplies, as well as sediment production that shortens the
lifespan of water bodies.”
Alcantara study also disputed Benguet Corp’s claim of having a
“water-tight” tailings dam, saying experts who have made extensive studies
on tailings dams around the world prove that “even the most carefully
constructed surface impoundment will eventually leak.”
recent newspaper reports and the December 2003 edition of the Philippine Mining
Journal reveal that Benguet Corp. is already well underway in its bulk water
supply project for Itogon and Baguio. Benguet Corp. President Phillip Romualdez
says the company is resorting to this project as “it will provide financial
stability for the company so it will avoid the peaks and drops or booms and
busts inherent in the mining industry.”
an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Christine Gaylican,
Romualdez also proudly announced Benguet Corp’s plan to bid for Baguio
City’s water supply, adding boastfully that Benguet Corp. can even increase
Baguio’s daily water supply to as much as 300,000 cubic meters using its
Corp. envisions to set in operation its bulk water project for Baguio City on
2005. The company is already supplying water in some parts of Itogon. It also
has a bulk water project in four towns of Bukidnon, Central Mindanao.
of water sources
the Itogon controversy is an increasing trend toward a new form of water
privatization where the country’s abundant yet finite water resources have
gotten the interest of profit-seeking companies like Benguet Corp.
from the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) seem to support this trend. For
the year 1998 alone, the NWRB has approved more than 1,000 water permits. Also,
Lisa Manlulu, NWRB Information Head, reveals that for the past 10 years, their
office has been deluged by applications for water permits, majority coming from
private companies. She adds that as a result, current backlog of water permits
being processed by the NWRB runs to as high as 7,000 applications.
Bautista, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the
Environment aptly calls this trend the “privatization of water sources.” He
says this comes in varied forms from the privatization of infrastructures
related to the supply of water like dams to natural sources of water coming into
the hands of private entities.
says that alongside on-going efforts by the government to privatize the National
Power Corporation (NAPOCOR), dams being administered by NAPOCOR like the Angat
and Pantabangan dams are to be bided by the government to private companies.
likewise mentions the case in Itogon as well as a similar project in Mindoro
Oriental where sources of surface and ground water are being privatized for
eventual private distribution. He adds that the same thing is happening in Bohol
where the province’s water resources are being extracted and used in Cebu,
where a badly depleted aquifer has already been categorized to have reached the
stage of saltwater intrusion.
Quimpo, executive director of the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC),
echoes the same fear about the country’s water resources increasingly coming
under the control of private interests. She mentions Lopez-owned Maynilad, the
largest private water concessionaire in Metro Manila.
says even as the Lopezes’ ABS-CBN Bantay Kalikasan Foundation already controls
the La Mesa Dam reservoir by virtue of the latter’s Memorandum of Agreement
with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), Maynilad is further
eyeing Laguna Lake as a possible alternative source of raw water. She, however,
quips that the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), which administers
Laguna Lake, does not seem to share Maynilad’s interests.
La Mesa reservoir supplies the bulk of the water needs of Metro Manila and the
nearby province of Rizal.
natural-born citizens of the Philippines have the right to seek a water permit,
according to PD 1067. As regards corporations, on the other hand, the same can
be accorded water permits if they are at least 60% Filipino-owned.
for Ka Ampy, the law is not actually sacrosanct when it comes to affording equal
protection and rights to ordinary Filipinos against powerful and moneyed
interests like Benguet Corp., which holds several water permits in Itogon as a
companies are automatically required to secure water permits for operating mine
Ampy notes that while Itogon folks who have banded together under the Itogon
Inter Barangay Alliance (IIBA) to oppose Benguet Corp’s. water permits went
all the way to the office of the NWRB in Quezon City, their opposition was not
considered because the law does not allegedly take into consideration opposition
from parties without a water permit.
to Ka Ampy, they were simply told to apply for a water permit if they want to
oppose Benguet Corp’s 10 (according to NWRB) water permits to extract and
store water from various locations in Itogon.
1067 states that protests or complaints against an existing water permit filed
solely on the ground of adverse effects on the privileges to use water from any
source shall not be entertained unless the complainant or protester is also a
water permit grantee.
Ampy says that to comply with the law’s requirements, IIBA applied with the
NWRB for a water permit. Recently, however, Ka Ampy told Bulatlat.com that
their application was denied on several technical grounds. He says the law has
several requirements, like land titles and clearances from several national and
local government agencies that, he adds, virtually make it impossible for the
people to compete with large corporations in reserving what the people
traditionally regard as one of the commons “which do not rightfully belong to
official of the NWRB explains, however, that the NWRB does not just deny
applications for water permits. As regards the IIBA application, he says some
requirements may not have been complied with yet, which could explain why they
have not yet issued permits to applicants opposing Benguet Corp’s water
further elaborates that the NWRB’s purpose in the granting of water permits is
to regulate the extraction of water from source. He adds that the only instance
when the Board denies water permits is when their study of the ecology of the
place where water is to be extracted no longer permits further extraction,
indicating a critical water ecology in the area.
Ka Ampy says that while before Itogon was blessed with overflowing water
resources, a water shortage is now spreading, affecting farmers and indigenous
folks in several Itogon barangays, such as Dalupirip, Ucab, Gumatdang, Virac and
want to know what you think of this article.