NOTE: THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE BOHOL CHRONICLE’S SUNDAY PRINT EDITION.
Bohol’s decades of lack of potable, safe water threw open an apparent clash for the production and distribution control of the valuable commodity (water is life) – likely, escalating to a crescendo starting in 2023.
Richli Corporation owned by industrialist Richard Lim, aided by a P1.1 Billion credit facility issued by the DBP (Development Bank of the Philippines), uses surface water and set up a water treatment facility in Cortes, established pipelines serving clean, potable water to Tagbilaran, Panglao, Cortes, Dauis, Baclayon, Corella and Albur.
The Balilihan LGU, on the other hand, operates under its Balilihan Waterworks System under the aegis of its 25-year water development strategy, and in a concurrent effort to link up for the extraction and water supply development with the Bohol Water Utilities, Inc., It has pumping stations in Del Carmen West and Sur, Cabad, Sal-Ing, Hanpolo Norte, Del Rosario and Sto. Nino to supply water to the Balilhan folks and “nearby municipalities in need of water.”
It had acquired P95 Million worth of funding for this water project from the GAA (General Appropriations Act) or the National Budget.
Although Richli Corporation had bought properties in Balilihan, a company statement said Richli is not interested in supplying water to Balilihan.
The opposing groups have been issuing statements accusing the other of obstructing the water development programs of the other.
BUGWAK SPRING CONTROVERSY
The latest conflict arose from the cancellation of the conditional water permit issued by the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) to the Balilihan LGU for what they claim was a misleading statement in their water application that the water source will come from the Sto. Nino Balilihan springwater but was, in fact, taken actually from the Magsaysay sitio, located in Sevilla (lot number 3533 owned by the Ejoc family) which belongs to the third district.
In its appeal for reconsideration to the NWRB, Balilihan Mayor Pureza Chatto averred that the source, in fact, comes from the lengthy Loboc river and that the town was led to believe by the National Irrigation Authority that the water source was legit.
Sevilla Mayor Juliet Dano through the SP had asked the DPWH (First District) and the Balilihan LGU to remove the gadgets being set up in the Sevilla territory because they were without an LGU permit to build. The pipes also traversed through the Sevilla property of the Ejoc family without just compensation, it was pointed out. The Sevilla mayor also wrote a letter to the NWRB for emphasis on the facts related to the controversy.
Back in 2007, an MOA was signed by then Balilihan Mayor Domy Chatto to pay the Sevilla LGU for the use of their water until Odette stopped the MOA which technically expired.
Former city mayor Dan Lim, who is taking the legal cudgels for Sevilla, said in a radio interview over dyRD, that he was filing a case versus Congressman Edgar Chatto and the DPWH First District Engineers Office for carrying out the “illegal installation”.
The final resolution of the issue could reach the Department of Justice.
Meanwhile, Richli explained that while its mandate includes sourcing water from Balilihan, it had no intention to sell water to that town.
NATIONAL HEALTH ISSUE
The fight for water turf assumed greater significance in the wake of findings after a series of water tests, that many of the water sources in Bohol – from deep wells and those so-called “refilling” stations do not meet the national standards for water safety and potability.
Once finally confirmed, violators will be meted stiff penalties according to health authorities.
It was brought out in a forum that out of the 60 medical complaints daily from Bohol, about 80% of them are kidney related. Doctors in Cebu had always assumed that Boholanos seeking dialysis treatment there from Bohol- and are victims of drinking unsafe water in the province.
Deep water wells also cause the widespread proliferation of sinkholes which are hazardous, especially in times of earthquakes.
BALILIHAN CLEAN WATER ADVOCATE HARASSED?
In a recorded radio interview (not with dyRD), Balilihan-based “clean water advocate” Enrique Mandanguit exposed how he and his family had been subjected to harassment by constant dogging of him and the parking near their residence of suspicious-looking motorcycles and cars.
Recently a giant firecracker was exploded near the residence causing trauma to the family. The deliberate throwing of the explosive was recorded by CCTV; however, is not deterring Mandanguit from exposing the hazards of drinking polluted water and the need for the Balilihan folks to upgrade the quality of water intake.
He said he daily fears for his life and safety.
RICHLI COMPLAINTS AGAINST CHATTO /YAP ADMINISTRATION
Richli Chairman Lim exposed that his company aimed at providing surface water and water-treated potable supply to the whole province of Bohol but was blocked many times during the administration of then-Governor Edgar Chatto.
He cited several examples.
In 2018, Balilihan strongly opposed Richli’s water permit application in Dorol and Del Carmen Balilihan which would have allowed the construction of a spare Water Treatment facility and would have become handy when the Cortes plant was partially eroded by typhoon Odette.
He said that in 2017, the former governor disfavored Richli supplying bulk water at only P15 per cubic meter to Tagbilaran city and other first district municipalities.
This was important because an NWRB study disclosed brackish water or salt intrusion was already found in these localities,
Recent events Lim disclosed include the questioning by Pambi (of which Rep Chatto is reportedly a member) of the submarine pipes going to Dauis and Panglao – the closure of which will deprive clean water currently enjoyed by 4,000 households and resorts in Dauuis and Panglao.
Richli spokesman Hardy Leopando also disclosed the following intrusions.
This year Pambi allegedly questioned the Eskaya beach lots in Looc Panglao.
In the presence of scores of Eskaya guests sometime in 2019 or 2018 about 15 policemen and BIR personnel swooped down on their books from 9 am to 10 pm for purported violations.
Just this October 50 police and LGU personnel entered the Eskaya gate which is part of a titled property and guests saw them roaming over the Eskaya grounds witnessed by many guests.
During the latter part of the term of the Gov. Art Yap administration, the SP wrote a letter (supposedly in aid of legislation) to answer the following matters about Richli’s water operations: (a) pending Richly applications for water permits (b) whether Richli has been granted a Certification of Public Convenience to Operate and in what localities in Bohol and (c) whether Richli’s tariffs to consumers have been approved.
YAP WATER STRATEGY
The Yap administration earlier had Landbank approve billions in funds available for the LGU “water projects” (with interest) without disclosing whether outside operators will be involved in the scheme.
There were only very few LGU takers of the loan proposal. Many questioned such misplaced priorities in the wake of missing “ayudas” for the pandemic and typhoon Odette.