The Science Legislative Forum (SLF) on Water Scarcity Amidst Plenty: Trans-boundary Issues was held last November 27, 2014 at the Ramon V. Mitra Building, House of Representatives. The SLF was organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL) through its Social Sciences Division (SSD) and University of the Philippines, in partnership with the House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology.
National Scientist Mercedes B. Concepcion, Vice President of NAST and chair of the SSD, delivered the welcome remarks on behalf of NAST President Academician  William G. Padolina. Academician Agnes C. Rola, focal person of the SLF and member of the SSD, gave the objectives of the SLF, which are to present the water governance issues ranging for the need for a science-based water-allocation process, institutional arrangements for market-based mechanisms for trading of water permits, and platform for conflict resolutions.
Dr. Rosalie A. Hall, professor of Political Science at the University of the Philippines Visayas, discussed water trans-boundary issues and the need for law to govern it. Dr. Hall mentioned that water is technically owned by the state and that people have legal rights to utilize and develop the resource through permits or concessions. Dr. Hall stated that “Water is not a free good”. She also discussed the Philippine Legal Framework of Water and the challenges to the implementation of the framework. Gaps in the law to support water transfers  conflict cases caused by water and the recommendation to review the water code were discussed. Her recommendations include the establishment of water data, requirement of public consultation prior to issuance of water permits or conclusion of contracts for water transfers, a platform to tackle water-transfer cases, and education of local level water actors on the rules regarding bulk water sale and market trade of water permits.
Mr. Ramon B. Alikpala, Jr., adviser of USAID’s Be Secure Project, emphasized that water is free. According to him, there is no price to the water but it has a cost — opportunity cost and environmental cost. He also explained that water is about governance, an issue of management rather than scarcity.
Dr. Sevillo D. David, Jr., executive director of the National Water Resources Board, talked about the need to bring NWRB closer to the people. He stated that there is a lack of knowledge on the authority and power of NWRB in terms of exercising its mandates in regulating water resources and resolving various water-related conflicts. According to Dr. David, the government is now considering issuing an Executive Order to strengthen the NWRB, which will help expand the manpower in NWRB and address its lack of science-based decision-making power.
Engr. Virgilio L. Bombeta, division manager of the Water Resources Development Division, Local Water Utilities Administration gave an overview of the technical aspect of the hydrologic trans-boundary issues. According to Engr. Bombeta, we should also look into other effects like the possible introduction of invasive species in water basins that would destroy biodiversity. He also introduced the concept of “safe yield”, defined as the quantity of water that goes to recharge the water system should also be the only quantity of water that should be extracted to avoid degradation on the quality of water.
The SLF was attended by four congressmen namely: Hon. Narciso Bravo Jr. of the COOP-NATCO Party-list, Hon. Leah Paquiz of the ANG NARS Party-list, Hon. Mariano U. Piamonte Jr. of A-Teacher Party-list, and Hon. Victor J. Yu, Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology, as well as staff of various committees of the House of Representatives.
Acd. Guillermo Q. Tabios III, member of the Engineering Sciences and Technology Division, provided a synthesis of the discussions while Engr. Glenn S. Banaguas, Outstanding Young Scientist 2014, professor of De La Salle Araneta University, served as the moderator and master of ceremonies. NS Concepcion thanked all the participants and formally closed the RTD.  (Aislynn Fabiola G. Manuel)