Capturing the thunder from the sun
V.L. Sonny Domingo (The Philippine Star) - April 11, 2019 - 12:00am

The recent water crisis is just the tip of the iceberg on the real problem in harnessing water for food production and for domestic consumption with industrial and commercial use.

Water is associated with Climate Change which is  the basic component of life and livelihood. This is especially in an archipelagic country like the Philippines which looks like a group of ships sailing in an ocean of uncertainty with an unpredictable weather system. The Philippines is a pure example of the proverbial saying “water, water everywhere and not an ounce to drink.”

The recent fiasco of water interruption for hours and even days was a management and regulatory mistake which is unforgivable even as Mr. Ayala, one of the concessionaires, apologized and is willing to waive its basic charge for water services. 

The worst hit if not corrected will be the farmers that will be harvesting their crops during these seasons of water shortage, manmade or natural. It is already too often that an announcement is made that there will be no irrigation water from Angat dam for Bulacan farmers because potable water will be the priority leading to their losses which is not by the thousands but by the millions making them food warriors licking their wounds after a battle to produce food and not getting the irrigation water. 

The government is fortunate, that farmer organizations are still fragmented and do not even have the money and time to demonstrate in front of Malacanang or Congress for the inherent right to have water for their livelihood. Ironically, their concrete lined canals built with World Bank loan to become first class irrigated farms are not usable half of the year. 

The National Water Resources Board reported that in 2003, the total use of water for domestic, industrial and agriculture was 77,257 MCM. This increased to 83,404 MCM in 2013 or ten years after. This was an increase of almost 10%. The same report showed that rain water harvested is only 4%. Eighty percent of this is used for irrigation. It would have been easy for the Dept. of Public Works to build water impounding structures in the watersheds to harvest rainwater and control flooding and erosion that has silted the dams. The problem is while they may have the technology and funds to do this they do not have jurisdiction. The one that has jurisdiction do not have the funds to do rain harvesting. This is really where the water problem starts.  

According to reports, 80% of this water goes back to nature as waste and untreated which are the rivers, bay and coastal waters seriously displacing good water for the fish population with bad water thus creating the “red tides.”

And so we have a situation that now requires bold action on the part of the government that emanates from Congress in the form of a law. The action needed is to consolidate all government agencies which generates water, uses the water and dispose the waste water back to nature into a Department of Water and Fishery Resources. 

Let us not wait for the farmers and fisherfolks to consolidate themselves, get out of their farms and coastal areas, stop producing and fishing and assemble in the seats of power like Congress and Malacanang and have a sit down and hunger strike. 

The first to move should be the committee on agriculture and committee on natural resources in both houses. They must now craft a law to solve this anomaly of the proverbial “right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing” that created this unforgivable havoc to farmers and households. The law can be titled Act to Create The Department of Water and Fishery Resources. It should compose of the Bureau of Forestry and its allied agencies and the Bureau of Fisheries and its allied agencies with the water regulating agencies of the government. The Bureau of Forestry has become the most corrupt agency conniving with the cutting of trees by unscrupulous lumbermen and charcoal traders. While the Bureau of Fisheries has become a police agency that killed Chinese fishermen and triggered the take-over of the fishing grounds (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea. When organized into a new department, the employees of these Bureaus can now be retired and replaced with more dedicated, young and nationalistic professionals licensed by the Professional Regulation Commission of the Office of the President. 

 The crafting of the law should be quick and decisive as what Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte and Sen. Cynthia Villar did with the Rice Tariffication Law. This law is now in place despite the fully funded objections of those with vested interest on the status quo of importing rice through an inutile government regulating agency in partnership with some farmer organizations and the rice cartel that stood to lost millions and even billions of profits under the status quo. 

 The new Department of Water and Fishery Resources can now also become the new champions of the farmers and fisherfolks. It can now encourage even the private sector to engage into building watersheds, dams and irrigation systems for their own use. The creation of this department will now be the key to our farmers and fisherfolks becoming competitive in the world market. The dole out system of the Department of Agriculture should now be thrown out of the window to give way for it or this new department to provide social investments.   

 With new watersheds, dams and irrigation systems, the rice farmers will now be saved from oblivion and becoming endangered specie. The rice farmers will now have the upper hand over the rice cartel if given the water and financial assistance in the form of social investment by this proposed department and the financing agencies. It will however fail if the government allows the continuing over importation and smuggling to first kill the small holder farmers and go back to the old policy of the government importing for food security because of lack of production of rice in the countryside. 

With irrigation under the DWFR,  Sec. Manny Pinol  must now use its new funds to  look into a proposal to plant and harvest rice everyday that has been proposed to him by a farmers federation based on agribusiness  since the first month of his appointment and provide a social investment of irrigate rainfed farmers to double their production, reduce their cost by 50%. This will now  produce enough  rice husk to run a one megawatt power plant to provide cheap electricity for “electrigation” (electric irrigation) and village level processing plants. 

 This new department must encourage private ownership of water to accept social investments from DA thatswill provide the capital needed and can be returned over a five-year period to start a new module and replicate the same to show that the RICE TARIFFICATION will make our farmers competitive and make our country self sufficient. 

 We cannot be like the lost paradise where there are trees but no more fruits. We have 6 months of rainfall every year which if harvested under this new department can be used to produce  food commodities for our self sufficiency and food security. WE CAN NOW CAPTURE THE THUNDER (for irrigation) FROM THE SUN (El Niño).

(V.L. Sonny Domingo is deputy commissioner of the Professional Regulation Commission’s Board of Agriculture, Office of the President.)

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