Virac SB seeks more info on calamity declaration
posted 3-Sep-2018  ·  
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With the capital town sweltering in record heat within 50 years last Thursday (Aug. 23), the Sangguniang Bayan failed to declare a state of calamity as it reportedly sought “field validation” of the recommendation of disaster officials regarding the effects of the worsening water shortage.

The municipal council chaired by Vice Mayor Arlynn Arcilla met that day to discuss the resolution of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC) and invited the management and board of the Virac Water District as resource persons.

VIWAD officials headed by board chairman Dir. Gabriel Tejerero had told the council during its Aug. 20 emergency meeting called by Mayor Samuel Laynes that except for Cauayan, its other two water sources at Padurog and Sibanhan are fast drying up due to lack of rain in the past two months.

The water district’s claim was buttressed by the report of PAGASA Virac officer-in-charge Juan Pantino Jr, that the entire province is experiencing an extended dry spell due to the “habagat” or southwest monsoon, with the chance of El Niño increasing by 68% by the end of the year.

The council also did not take into consideration the fact that that barangay councils in 11 villages – San Isidro Village, San Jose, Francia, Sogod-Tibgao, Danicop, Palnab del Norte, Gogon Centro, Valencia, Concepcion, Calatagan, and Calatagan Tibang – have passed resolutions urging the chief executive to declared a state of calamity.

Under existing guidelines, a state of calamity may be declared on the basis of two or more conditions brought about by, among others, a drought affecting crop production: at least 20% of the population should be affected and there is disruption of lifelines such as potable water system which cannot be restored within one (1) week.

The water district had previously stated that barring the arrival of the rainy season in the locality and the completion of the upgrading of, VIWAD’s intake tank and transmission line, the water supply would normalize by the end of December 2018.

The council was supposed to re-convene on Friday but there was a lack of quorum. According to informed sources, Vice Mayor Arcilla, Councilor Virgilio Candelaria, Councilor Hermin Zafe, and Councilor Nel Asanza are in favor of the declaration. Councilors Rosie Olarte, Amador Abichuela, Susan Isidoro, Reynante Bagadiong and Liga ng mga Barangay chapter president Hazel Isidoro wanted further study while SK federation chair Fay Louise Pastor was out of the province.

The quibbling over the calamity declaration began Aug. 20 when the mayor told local media he, through the MDRRMC, has declared a state of calamity, when it was supposed to be the local Sanggunian which would declare it upon the MDRRMC’s recommendation.

Laynes later corrected himself and apologized for the snafu, saying that he only wanted to fast-track the declaration so the municipality would be able to ask the Philippine Red Cross for assistance.

That night, he contacted Red Cross Chairman Sen. Richard Gordon, who subsequently told the local chapter to get the needed equipment from Albay province.

The Red Cross team headed by chapter administrator Reymund Reginaldo was supposed to arrive in Virac last Saturday (Aug. 25) together with a water tanker with a capacity of 10,000 liters, another water tanker of 12,000-liter capacity, an LMS water purification unit with a capacity of 40,000 to 60,000 liters per day, water bladders and tap stands.

The Cua Group of Companies shouldered the transport costs of the equipment aboard the RSL ferry, with the municipality supposed to provide for the fuel and other costs for the two-month operation in the amount of about P300,000.00 charged to the 5% Calamity Fund.

Laynes has assured that out of the multi-million peso fund, only the allocation for potable water augmentation will be touched so as to enable delivery of water to parched barangays. The declaration is also needed to hasten the process of procurement that would take as long as two months in normal situation, he said.

For her part, Vice Mayor Arcilla told the MDRRM Council that the Sanggunian is only following proper procedure in the declaration of the state of calamity.

Aside from hard data on water sources and affected areas, the SB also requested a list of water refilling stations which are either barely operating or have closed operations due to the shortage.

Mayor Laynes also wants a price freeze on bottled water and urged VIWAD to check establishments and homes with water pumps to verify if they have cisterns or if the pumps are directly connected to the distribution pipes, which would deprive neighboring homes of water.

During the meeting of the Committee of the Whole, however, the councilors quizzed the VIWAD chairman and General Manager Luis Surtida Sr. on current situation and on the district’s failure to invest in new water sources, including ground water, in past years.

Surtida disclosed that he had proposed that the district borrow P50 million from the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) but the board was not open to the idea as it would lead to an increase in water rates. According to Tejerero, VIWAD water is the second –cheapest in the Bicol region, just behind Baras.

The board decided to wait for the release of the promised P100-million assistance from Sen. Chiz Escudero for the upgrading of the Cauayan water source but only P45 million was released after a year. Another P300 million is reportedly up for release, from which the district would proposed the construction of underground cisterns and elevated tanks to store water and the development of another water source.

“There will be substantial improvement in water service by December and full  expansion in two years,” Tejerero told the council, adding that the management and board is doing everything despite the scathing criticism from the public.

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