By Camille A. Aguinaldo, Charmaine A. Tadalan, and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras, March 13 2019; Business World

Image Credit to Philippine Star

A PALACE official said the government is drafting an executive order (EO) to address the water crisis by rationalizing inefficient water management practices which had been flagged by economic planners, as continued shortages in parts of the capital entered their second week, forcing the authorities to prioritize critical users like hospitals.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said in a statement that the Cabinet’s Economic Cluster and the Cabinet Assistance System had been working before the water crisis on a draft “that would help the government better resolve the many issues involving the supply and distribution of water” and that an inter-agency team could produce an order “in the next few days.”

He said economic planners had flagged water management issues in the 2017-2022 Philippine Development Plan (PDP) which Mr. Nograles described as problems with “the development, utilization and management of water-related services.”

The Department of Health (DoH) said it has received assurances from water providers to ensure the adequate supply of water to hospitals in Metro Manila.

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said he met with Manila Water Co., Inc. Chief Operating Officer Geodino V. Carpio on Tuesday to discuss measures to ensure continued water supply to government hospitals.

“Manila Water has assured me that the DoH hospitals will not run out of water and they will be making water deliveries for as long as necessary,” Mr. Duque said in a briefing at the Rizal Medical Center (RMC) on Wednesday.

Mr. Duque said he will also be meeting with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), and other stakeholders to make arrangements for water management and transportation in affected areas.

Manila Water Group Director for East Zone Business Operations Esmeralda R. Quines said that the company’s customers are expected, “in a schedule that will be released within the week,” to have “interrupted supply” for certain parts of the day “to allow our customers to store (water) and to allow the company to fill its reservoirs for next-day use.”

She confirmed that “hospitals will be our main priority.”

Manila Water, one of the capital’s two concession holders, has said that water service interruptions are expected to last until the dry season, or at least until it rains sufficiently to fill La Mesa Dam, where water levels have fallen past the 69-meter mark considered critical.

Legislators said they have called for inquiries on the water crisis.

“We will call for the hearing as part of the committee’s oversight functions over the country’s utilities. What we are seeing now is not normal and something that our households and farmers do not deserve,” Senate committee on public services chair Senator Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares said in a statement on Wednesday.

Ms. Poe-Llamanzares also said the Senate will review measures taken by the Department of Agriculture (DA) for the agriculture sector, including cloud seeding.

She called once more for the creation of an independent and quasi-judicial Water Regulatory Commission.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol has said the department will carry out cloud-seeding activities in Central Luzon to help relieve the pressure on the reservoirs serving the capital and key farming areas in nearby provinces.

At the House, resolutions pushing for investigations into water interruptions in Metro Manila, Rizal and Cavite have been filed.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate filed House Resolution No. 2518, asking the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to hold hearings on the water interruptions.

“Thousands of people were deprived of water services since March 8 and were reduced to waiting for water tankers or opening fire hydrants just to have water,” according to the resolution.

Manila Water on March 8 said it implemented “operational adjustments” that resulted in low pressure or no water, in response to the decline in the water level at La Mesa Dam. The capital’s other concession holder, Maynilad Water Services Inc., also announced service interruptions.

“According to PAGASA (the government weather bureau), the El Niño phenomenon is predictable and measures can be done to prepare for it, but it seems that water concessionaires did not do so,” Mr. Zarate added.

Magdalo Rep. Gary C. Alejano also filed House Resolution No. 2520 to look into the water crisis.

Mr. Alejano also advised the public to conserve water.

RMC Chief Relito M. Saquilayan said hospital patients are at particular risk from the water shortage, particularly those with compromised immune systems and the heightened possibility of a seasonal uptick in respiratory and gastro intestinal diseases.

Mr. Duque said: “We cannot compromise the health of our patients. Our hospitals depend on water for the hygiene and sanitation.”

RMC normally consumes about 500 cubic meters daily but has been forced to work with 250 cubic meters.

The Philippine Air Force said it is awaiting the go-signal to proceed on cloud-seeding.

Air Force Spokesperson Major Aristides M. Galang, Jr. in a phone-patch interview with reporters on Wednesday, said once the seeding plan is approved the operation will proceed immediately.

Kung sinabi sa atin na approved ‘yan, go na talaga, magko-conduct na ng cloud seeding (If we are told that the plan is approved, it will be a go, and we will conduct cloud seeding,” added Mr. Galang. — Camille A. Aguinaldo, Charmaine A. Tadalan, and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras