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Opinion

Calling DPWH Sec. Manny Bonoan

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

First of all, let me congratulate Manuel “Manny” Bonoan on his recent confirmation by the Commission on Appointments as Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). Manny is no stranger to the department, having served in the administrations of presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria M. Arroyo, as undersecretary or acting secretary of the same agency on separate occasions in the past. Prior to his appointment, Bonoan was the president and chief executive officer of SMC Tollways, overseeing operations and management of Skyway, NAIA X, SLEX, Star and TPLEX. Usually, most individuals occupying high positions in the private sector or in government, especially as Cabinet members, include their educational background in their biodata. In the case of Bonoan, nothing is mentioned except that he is an engineer and businessman from Ilocos Norte. What else is there to know? During his confirmation hearings, he was teased by Senator Imee Marcos about his “unexplained poverty,” as reflected in his SALN.

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Importance of water. Water is an absolute necessity to sustain human life. Without water, communities, the economy, society cannot survive. Our communities need water systems that provide in quantity and quality water for drinking, for washing, sanitation, production and fire-fighting. Access to quality water is a major factor in a country’s economic and social development.

Having said this about water, let me inform our readers about a little-known agency—at least, to many of our people, especially in Metro Manila, who take for granted their water supply and distribution. This agency, known as the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), is a government-owned and -controlled corporation (GOCC) under the administrative supervision of the Department of Public Works and Highways. The LWUA is mandated by law to promote and oversee the development of water systems in cities and municipalities outside of Metro Manila.

Mr. Secretary, for almost five months now, the LWUA has been carrying on without a duly appointed administrator. Presently, it is being administered by an acting administrator, an interim administrator or an officer-in-charge. I am not certain of the actual title. At any rate, in whatever capacity, the present official is not authorized to sign payment checks for contractors who have been working on approved water supply projects in water districts in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. These projects are funded by the LWUA from loans secured from local financial institutions or from international organizations, such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, or from the national budget (GAA). Some of these projects are for the National Housing Authority tasked to build housing units for our people.

A good example of the existing problem is the Carles Water District in the northernmost town of Iloilo province. The Carles Water District water supply contractors have filed for suspension of contracts because they have not been paid by the LWUA for progress billings on ongoing projects, or for down payment on new ones. LWUA cannot issue the necessary checks since the signature of a permanent administrator is required by law.

This is just one case. The contract suspensions have caused delays in the supply of potable water in many communities nationwide. Millions of people are affected. In the municipality of Carles, Iloilo, there are ten National Housing Authority (NHA) housing projects for about 10,000 people, mostly victims of the Typhoon Yolanda of 2013 (almost ten years ago). The houses cannot be occupied because of the absence of potable water supply. There are two groups of contractors involved in the work: Those working on the development of water source, and those concerned with pipelaying activities. It is mostly the pipelaying contractors who have filed for contract suspensions, thus bringing to a temporary stop their construction activities until such time as payments from LWUA are made. The economic development of the affected communities are brought to a standstill.

Mr. Secretary, the above report may have some inaccuracies. They are mine and I would be happy to make the necessary corrections. What is certain is that there is a need for a permanent administrator in order to get things moving at LWUA and in the various water supply projects needed for communities nationwide. Your kind attention is requested.

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With the changeover of administration in July, it is possible that this is a situation existing in other agencies of government, especially at the GOCCs. At the national level, we continue to have temporary heads at Agriculture, Defense and Health. The Defense establishment in particular, appears to be having some difficulties in the interpretation/implementation of a new retirement law, RA 11709. There are no perfect laws. They are crafted by human beings with various opinions and ideas, often in consultation with other knowledgeable individuals. As a result, some groups will benefit from the new legislation; others will be disadvantaged. Laws can always be amended in subsequent legislative action as needed. What is important is the institution and the national interest is upheld.

DPWH

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