Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Country Water ActionsPhilippines: Securing Water Rights for All
ADB Web Writer In the Philippines, only a handful knows that water rightsare granted by the government. In contrast, many waterusers do not have permits as proof of water rights. Discoverthe travails and triumphs of an inconspicuous governmentagency as it expands water rights coverage to secure waterrights for all.
LICENSING THE RIGHT TO WATER
Every morning,Benjamin Villanuevagazes across his ricefield with a contentedsigh. He knows hiscrops are gettingenough water and afruitful harvest is inthe horizon, just likein the past twentyyears. “I never have to worry about where to get water for mycrops. We have our water permit,” Benjamin said. By “we,” Benjamin is referring to the 73 other farmer-members of the San Benito Communal Irrigation Association. Together,they own 137 hectares of land in Laguna province, south of Manila. By “water permit,” he meant the license and “waterright” granted by the Philippines’ National Water ResourcesBoard (NWRB), the country’swater apex body. “We’ve been irrigating these fields with water from theSantol River ever since we got our permit in 1986,” Benjamin proudly said. “We can get up to 600 gallons persecond of water.” The Philippines’ 1976 Water Code explicitly says that allwater—from under the ground or flowing in rivers—is ownedand protected by the government, and that water usersneed to secure a permit to use natural water resources. Notevery water user in the Philippines has a permit, though, oreven knows enough about it to secure it. The gruelling taskof implementing the Water Code and issuing water permitsfalls unto NWRB’s hands.NWRB Executive Director Ramon Alikpala says, “Manypeople don’t realize that getting their water permit not onlymeans securing their water rights. It also means we canallocate water more effectively to different water users andmaintain ecological balance.”
WATER USERS AND THEIR RIGHTS
The Philippines’ Water Code defines the extent of the rightsand obligation of water users. All water users are born withfundamental water rights, some acquire water rights, andsome have water rights thrust upon them. The Water Code recognizes human beings’ fundamentalright to water—it exempts drinking, cooking, bathing, andother domestic or household uses from the permitrequirement. People also do not need water permits tocollect water from rivers or lakes using hand carriedreceptacles, or to use these waters for bathing or washing,watering or dipping of domestic or farm animals, and forboating or water transportation.Water users who use water beyond domestic purposesacquire their water rights when the NWRB grants theirapplication for a water permit. Mostly bulk water users, theyincludemunicipalities or towns that extract water forcommunity purposesfarmer organizations that use water for irrigation, likethe San Benito farmerscommercial water users that extract water for powergeneration, fisheries, livestock raising, industrial,recreational, and other purposes.The 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act thrust water rightsupon indigenous peoples. Traditional water use practices,though not mentioned in the Water Code, are protected bythe Act, which bestows customary water rights toindigenous communities.
IMPLEMENTING THE WATER CODE
It is difficult to believethat many peoplehave yet to hearabout the 30-year-oldWater Code, and someof the few who knowabout it believe it anunnecessarygovernmentregulation. “We’vebeen fighting againstthis idea for years. We need to strictly regulate the use of our water resources, or it’s the environment that suffers,” Alikpala said.Many people still extract surface and groundwater at willbecause they don’t know that they need permits to do so.Alikpala explains, “When you extract water from theunderground water table, you not only risk polluting theentire system, but also run the risk of land subsidence. Thisis what is happening in the CAMANAVA area.” Composed of four cities in northern Metro Manila, the CAMANAVA areahas been sinking slowly because of groundwater over-extraction, causing frequent floods.