NOTE: THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE BOHOL CHRONICLE’S SUNDAY PRINT EDITION.
The local governments of Sevilla and Balilihan are likely to agree to peacefully end their conflict over Bugwak Spring, an abundant source for safe drinking water situated within its municipal boundaries, following the intervention of Governor Aris Aumentado.
The governor stepped into the water conflict between the towns of Sevilla and Balilihan in order to reach a peaceful resolution where everyone gets to have safe drinking water while at the same time, the rights of the local government are respected in the implementation of national government projects.
Gov. Aumentado personally conducted dialogues with Mayor Juliet Dano of Sevilla and Mayor Pureza Chatto of Balilihan on separate occasions to de-escalate the situation after LGU Sevilla removed the submersible pump and other components constructed over Bugwak Spring at Magsaysay, Sevilla on June 9.
After two successive meetings called by the Governor on June 12 and 13 with concerned national government agencies and key capitol officials but separately attended by the two local government units, key issues were settled.
First, Mayor Dano reiterated that they recognize Bugwak Spring is a natural resource that belongs to the State and should be shared with qualified permittees.
LGU-Sevilla will not object to the restoration of the submersible pump and other components provided LGU-Balilihan will reapply for a water permit with the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) indicating that its source, Bugwak Spring, is located at Magsaysay, Sevilla, Bohol.
It was agreed that during the ocular inspection at Bugwak Spring that morning of June 13, where all parties were represented, LGU-Balilihan is amendable that the spring is located at Magsaysay, Sevilla.
The Provincial Government of Bohol is willing to facilitate the restoration of the submersible pump and attached equipment that forms part of the Balilihan Water Supply System Phase 1.
In the meantime, LGU-Sevilla offered that water from Bugwak Spring can be provided to Balilihan through the existing old water connection and a new mother meter will be installed on the Sevilla side.
Both parties likewise decided that the proposed signing of the agreement between LGU-Sevilla and LGU-Balilihan with the Provincial Government, and the proposed activities to be done as a result of the May 23 meeting, will be pursued.
A forum will also be conducted in Sevilla which will be attended by the national government agencies concerned and the provincial government to explain the issues surrounding Bugwak Spring.
It will be recalled that DENR Undersecretary Analiza Rebuelta presided over a consultative dialogue on May 23, 2023, at Panglao Blue Waters Resort in a bid for the two LGUs to reach an amicable agreement in view of Sevilla’s protest against Balilihan’s project at Bugwak Spring.
Said dialogue was also attended by the Regional Directors of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), their respective provincial directors or district officials, the Provincial Government represented by the Provincial Legal Officer, and the Mayors and local officials of Sevilla and Balilihan.
In that consultative dialogue, the following activities were proposed to be done to be embodied in a Memorandum of Agreement by the parties:
1. DENR with the Provincial Government of Bohol, DILG and DPWH will conduct a joint ocular inspection of the structure which provides water supply to households of LGU Balilihan from Bugwak Spring;
2. Installation of a water supply project for LGU Sevilla at Bugwak Spring through the assistance to be obtained by DPWH to provide additional water supply to LGU Sevilla;
3. NWRB will provide assistance to LGU Sevilla in applying for a Water Permit for this additional water supply;
4. The Local Government Units (LGUs) of Sevilla and Balilihan will cooperate and work together to maintain water quality in the mouth of Bugwak Spring;
5. DENR with the Provincial Government of Bohol, DILG, and DPWH will support LGU Sevilla in formulating its Master Plan for Water Resources Management towards water security, climate and disaster resilience; and
6. DILG and the Provincial Government of Bohol will ensure partnership/collaboration among LGUs.
Power and water are the two flagship development agenda of Gov. Aumentado when he ran for office and he desires for local government units and private investors to have a peaceful co-existence when it comes to the utilization of water resources.
DPWH THREATENS TO FILE LEGAL ACTION
In a letter to Mayor Dano dated June 9, 2023, DPWH-First District Engineer John Paul Gascon requested LGU Sevilla to return and restore the intake structures, submersible pump and pipes and other components of the Balilihan water supply system within three days, and which should be completed in thirty days.
“The Balilihan Water Supply System Phase 1 and [its] components remain to be lawfully situated and cannot be removed without any lawful order from any competent court, tribunal, or body. Failure to return/restore the structures/equipment in its original condition will constrain this office to file the necessary civil, criminal and administrative actions against any persons involved in the removal,” the letter stated.
Engr. Gascon added that the structures and equipment are government property and therefore entitled to full protection under our laws.