The desperate search for additional sources of water to support the growing demand of 33,553 residents of the municipality of Panglao and its burgeoning economy is again under scrutiny following howls of protest raised by barangay officials over the continued blatant digging of wells by a perceived favored water provider of the local government unit (LGU).
The clamor of the barangay residents who raised the danger and fear of the depletion and the eventual drying up of their existing decades’ old barangay water wells has again reached the attention of the Office of the Governor during the weekly Friday meeting with the local media “Kita ug ang Governador”.
Apparently, issues raised during a dialogue among the stakeholders on February 15, 2016, at the Governor’s Mansion presided by Governor Edgar Chatto remains unresolved.
During the dialogue, Chatto sat with the barangay captains of affected barangays, LGU officials led by Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero together with top officials of Abejo Waters Corporation (AWC), the private water provider to thresh out serious misunderstanding hounding the water situation affecting six barangays.
Upon hearing the persistent objections on the perceived illegal drillings in Panglao, Chatto ordered the Provincial Legal Office to make another review of the complaint.
Issues covering the legality of the water supply memorandum of agreement (MOA), Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), National Water Resources Board (NWRB) digging permits and public biddings for the supply of water is still awaiting resolution from the Provincial Legal Office.
A formal opposition was filed by the affected barangays before the National Water Resources Board (NWRB).
An existing resolution from the Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) and individual resolutions from six barangays expressing their opposition to the unhampered diggings did not deter Panglao Waters Services, Inc. a subsidiary of AWC to continue their digging activities.
The row between Abejo Waters and six barangays erupted after Panglao Water Services, Inc., started digging wells allegedly without the required permits from the National Water Resource Board (NWRB) and consultation with barangay residents.
Barangay residents resented the mode of supplying the water needs of the municipality through deep wells dug within the municipality raising fears of salt intrusion and the eventual drying up of existing wells.
Abejo Waters entered into a memorandum of agreement with the LGU of Panglao on August 28, 2013, to develop, finance, design, engineer, test, commission, own, operate, manage and maintain, at its own cost, a water distribution system in Panglao.
The MOA provides for the development of available water resources and development of additional water sources outside Panglao island in the near future.
But 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.
Assurances by AWC President and Chief Executive Officer Gabino “Borgy” Matugas-Abejo, Jr. failed to mollify 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.
But the drillings caused apprehensions from Barangay Looc residents citing findings from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) on the presence of several sinkholes in the island and with unregulated underground water extraction leading to the sinking or subsidence of the land surface.
Wells dug for the expansion of the Municipal waterworks to supply several barangays, combined with the present commercial extraction might cause the drying up of existing barangay deep wells, according to the residents of Barrangay Danao.
Barangay Tawala and Bil-isan raised ugly fears of land subsidence where half of their barangay’s surface is composed of limestone and over-extraction of ground water thru drilling is a common cause of “cover collapse or carbonate dissolution”.
Barangay Bolod stressed that they welcome the entry of water-related business but “we don’t allow ground water extraction in our municipality”.
The stand of the Sangguniang Barangays (SB’s) or village councils of Looc, Bolod, Danao, Lourdes, Bil-isan and Tawala and the Liga ng mga Barangay, Panglao Chapter remains firm in the face of an offer of cheap and reliable water rates offered by AWC.
AWC billboards published their water rates at PhP20 for the first 5 cu.m., PhP30 -6-10 cu.m., Php35 for 11–20 cu.m., Php45 for 21-30 and over 30 cu.m. Php60.00 and are now accepting applications.
But according to sources from the Sangguniang Bayan of Panglao, the authority granted to Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero to enter into an agreement with AWC has lapsed after the water provider allegedly failed to operate within the time frame provided in the SB authority.
Moreover, some members of the SB administration majority block informed the Chronicle that the water rates as announced by AWC were not discussed during their regular sessions.
Worst, according to residents, the plan to supply water were not subjected to competitive bidding and arrogantly disregarded the province policy of utilizing surface water as a source of water supply to protect the endangered water tables of Panglao.
The Department of Local Government (DILG) also rebuked the SB for allowing Abejo Waters to develop the water system by tapping into the barangays fragile aquifers instead of bringing in water from outside sources.
As borne in the minutes of August 26, 2015, SB session, Municipal Local Government Operations Officer Victor Lapiz chided the SB members “Just like sa Abejo, nagkapandol-pandol intawn mi didto to block Abejo kay mag dig sila sa duol sa atong reservoir.”
Lapiz told the SP “My apprehension is that the race to pump water between Abejo and our own waterworks on the same water table will result in the salt intrusion
SB minutes obtained by the Chronicle during the appearance of Edgar Denoso and Engr, Allen Marcojos of AWC on July 13, 2013, also revealed the plan of ACW is to prove to the municipality of Panglao that they can produce water from within without sourcing their water supply from the main island of Bohol.
DROPPING GROUNDWATER LEVELS
Water levels in existing wells in the municipality have plummeted deeper, according to observers, effects of generations of unregulated groundwater pumping that will worsen with the additional diggings by AWC.
The fallout of these additional diggings in the fragile water tables which according to a study by the Bohol Integrated Water Supply Master Plan (BIWSMP) will aggravate the present critical saltwater intrusion into the water tables of the affected barangays.
Chatto stressed that as a general policy statement, the surface water source is better because of less environmental displacement which we are trying to develop.
“Ground water source has more environmental displacements leading to risks on the water tables”, said Chatto.
Chatto recognized the special needs of Panglao and Dauis since most developmental activities are centered on the island and any environmental impact with regards to the reported water diggings will affect the island.
Copies of the resolutions of the six barangays and the Panglao Liga ng mga Barangay furnished to the Chronicle with Looc Barangay Head Reginaldo Guioguio complaining to the Sangguniang Bayan of Panglao about the mysterious digging activities that reached the local DILG office.
The controversy is expected to reach the halls of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) considering the magnitude of the water situation prevailing in the two towns of Panglao island – Dauis and Panglao.
With the scheduled completion of the PhP7.8 billion New Bohol International Airport in Panglao next year and the anticipated increase in population and influx of business, the immediate need to resolve the water supply problem of the municipality demands the immediate attention of the public and private stakeholders of Bohol. (Chito M. Visarra)