Governor Edgar Chatto took a hard look into a controversial plan that would extract more water from underground sources in the municipality of Panglao even as Mayor Leonila Montero balked at the request from a municipal councilor to release documents pertaining to the ongoing water distribution project.
A scheduled dialogue on February 15, 2016 between Chatto and barangay captains of Panglao affected by alleged unauthorized diggings of water wells in their barangays expanded into an unintended meeting with concerned Local Government officials, heads of provincial and national government agencies and the water project proponent, Abejo Waters Corporation (AWC) at the Governor’s Mansion.
The ten Panglao barangays expressed their opposition over the surreptitious modus operandi of AWC to drill for water in two barangays without consultation with the residents and the lack of information on the provisions of a memorandum of agreement between the LGU and the water provider.
While that would help solve the barangay water woes, barangay residents with water wells worry that drawing that much water would negatively affect their own supply.
NO RELEASE OF DOCUMENTS
But the uncompromising position of Montero on the release of documents relating to the water agreement took the meeting by surprise as she blamed her political opponents for muddling the issues.
Pointing an accusing finger on her political rival for Mayor in the 2016 elections – former Panglao Mayor Dr. Doloreich Dumaluan, the incumbent mayor preferred to present the studies to Chatto and wait for the end of the elections for the release of the documents to the Sangguniang Bayan and barangay officials.
AWC President and Chief Executive Officer Gabino “Borgy” Matugas-Abejo, Jr. and Atty. Salvador Licayan, legal counsel of AWC were present during the dialogue with Chatto.
Dumaluan, when asked by the Chronicle to respond to Montero’s remarks during the dialogue said “I am saddened that politics was injected into the search for a viable water supply for Panglao”.
The former mayor said ” the drilling for water caught by surprise the barangays while the LGU neglected to inform the residents of their plan to utilize internal sources of water thru the drilling of wells near existing wells”.
The meeting brought into the surface the failure of the LGU and the private water investor, AWC to facilitate community participation to the best interest of all stakeholders.
Panglao Councilor Joseph Jasper Arcay, chair of the committee on environment of the Sangguniang Bayan of Panglao pointed out the long pending request for the release of the water studies and other related documents.
Arcay pointed out that this was the main reason that residents are confused on the real issues surrounding the water scheme as proposed by AWC.
The Chronicle later learned that AWC agreed to share the studies and documents to the committee on environment despite the opposition of Montero.
Failure of both the LGU and AWC to conduct public hearings on the acceptability of drilling of additional wells as source for the water needs of more than 68,000 residents prompted resolutions opposing AWC’s scheme.
Mixed signals from Montero added to the mounting confusion among the barangays when Barangay Tawala Captain Saturnina Hernando told Chatto that the Mayor herself told her that she will not allow any drilling for water in Panglao.
BRACKISH WATER ONLY
But AWC President Abejo, Jr. allayed the fears of the barangay captains that the initial drillings were intended as test drills to draw brackish water not bland or fresh water.
Abejo, Jr. guaranteed that no fresh water will be drawn from their wells except brackish water which will be converted into potable water thru their reverse osmosis equipment.
The two Panglao barangay captains who were present during the dialogue – Â Hernando and Brgy. Looc Captain Reginaldo Guioguio expressed dismay when notices of water permit applications were received by their respective offices from the National Water Resources Board (NWRB).
In the case of Brgy Looc, the application of AWC was for a building permit but was surprised that water was gushing from wells drilled in their area.
A permit to drill (PTD) is required for those applicants without existing deep wells aside from the required proof of land ownership of, legal title to, or right to use, the property where the water source is situated.
But despite the absence of a water permit AWC has been drilling for water ostensibly for test purposes but cease their operations when barangay residents expressed their opposition thru a signature campaign and resolutions.
AWC has yet to secure their environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the DENR.
The 25 yr. Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by Abejo, Jr. for AWC and Montero for the LGU of Panglao on August 28, 2013, barely two months after the assumption of office of the new administration.
The MOA provides for the development of available water resources and development of additional water sources outside Panglao island in the near future.
According to Panglao Councilor Rogelin Degoma, a water permit to drill in Corella was granted to AWC but was abandoned. AWC admitted that their water drilling permit in Corella was not utilized after a study showed that the company will spend P700 million to bring the water to Panglao.
Sourcing their water from Panglao would give water consumers a minimum of P20.00 for the first 5 cu.m. for their water consumption.
SB minutes obtained by the Chronicle during the appearance of Edgar Denoso and Engr, Allen Marcojos of AWC on July 13, 2013 showed that the plan of ACW is to show Panglao that they can produce water from within without sourcing their water supply from other island.
Chatto, despite the contradictions that were exposed during the meeting was still optimistic that there is a point of convergence on the contentious issues among the stakeholders.
The existing MOA on the Panglao water deal was referred to the Provincial Legal Office to determine areas where competitive public bidding is needed.
Chatto suggested that AWC could make arrangements with the Bohol Water Utilities Inc, (BWUI) for their water pipes to connect with the existing BWUI water lines leading to the ongoing construction airport site.
According to Chatto, the risk of a disapproval of the water permit of AWC by NWRB and the unified opposition of the ten barangays of Panglao against the drilling of new water wells is a business call for the investor.
The choice of a private entity to own and manage the aging water system of the municipality has met stiff resistance from residents despite the presence of three water distributors – the municipal waterworks, Balibago Waters and Abejo Waters.Â (Chito M. Visarra)