DENR calls for proper management of wastewater, recognizes 14 'water champions'

To emphasize this year's World Water Day theme, "Water and Wastewater", a top official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Wednesday (March 22) underscored the need to focus on the so-called double effects of wastewater during the culminating event of the celebration of Philippine Water Week and World Water Day at the Quezon City Sports Club.

This, even as DENR Undersecretary for Staff Bureaus Demetrio Ignacio, Jr. led the recognition of 14 "water champions" comprised of individuals, organizations, government agencies and local government units (LGUs).

Speaking on behalf of DENR Secretary Gina Lopez, who is on official leave, Ignacio said that while wastewater pollutes the environment and causes health problems, it can be beneficial if properly treated and reused.

"Treated wastewater helps clean our environment and re-using them conserves our water supply. They also offer economic advantages," Ignacio said.

Ignacio cited a recent study of the United Nations Environment Program on the economic valuation of wastewater which showed that approximately 330 cubic kilometers of municipal wastewater are generated globally.

He said: "This can irrigate and fertilize millions of hectares of agricultural land that can substantially increase food supply and generate bio-energy for millions of households."

According to Ignacio, the dichotomy of wastewater fits well into the primary objective of the DENR under the new administration, that is, to provide social justice for the people.

"Social justice means that in everything that we do, the communities should always benefit; and anything that we do should not result to the sufferings of our people."

"We should always strive to recycle our wastewater to benefit our communities and we should not allow untreated wastewater that will harm our people," he added.

In light of reports that the Philippines is among the countries most threatened by water scarcity, Ignacio also sought public support and cooperation on water conservation, "Let us not be waster. Let us be savers of water," he said.

Recognized for having gone above and beyond the call of duty to save the country’s most precious natural resource – water, this year's "water champions" are as follows:

Kampeon ng Lawa: Gil Abaquin (Ecoindex), Global Underwater Explorers, and TWG Knife Fish Infestation;

Huwarang Lingkod Tubig: San Jose del Monte Water District and Baliuag Water District in Bulacan province, and Dumaguete Water District in Negros Oriental province;

Kampeon ng Katubigan: Manila Water's Toka-Toka Advocacy Campaign;

Water-wise City Award: Makati City government;

Water Leadership Award: Engr. Arthur Batomalaque, Environmental Management Specialist, City Environment Management Office, San Carlos City, Negros Occidental; and Engr. Thelma Bautista, city environment and natural resources officer of San Jose del Monte, Bulacan;

Huwarang Alagad ng Ilog Pasig: MMDA's Flood Control and Sewerage Management Office;

Water Warrior Award: Albert Toldanes, president of Samahang Tubig Maynilad-Riverview; Engr. Reydennis Gilbas, president of Bicol Water District Association; and Mayor Edwin L. Olivarez and the Parañaque city government for their Urban Gardening Campaign.

Ignacio, together with National Water Resources Board (NWRB) Executive Director Sevillo David, Jr. and Maynilad CEO and President Ramoncito S. Fernandez, handed the awards to the honorees.

The WWD Awards was co-sponsored by the Laguna Lake Development Authority, Local Water Utilities Administration, DENR-National Capital Region, Environmental Management Bureau, and Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission.

For his part, NWRB Executive Director David said that the water champions were an inspiration that "we can do so much more for the environment especially for our water resources".

"The awardees gave their best, year round, without expectation of any recognition," David said.

He also announced that the UN General Assembly on December 2016 has declared 2018 to 2028 as the Decade for Water. A global launch will be held next year. ### 

Involve stakeholders, include econ rehab – Lopez

DENR Secretary Gina Lopez credited the Department’s string of successes in environmental protection to a “multi-stakeholder approach” that includes not only strict implementation but post-enforcement rehabilitation.

“We involve as many agencies as possible. We do not stop at just going after logging and mining violators. The department goes a step further and creates livelihood opportunities to those displaced by our closures and suspension orders,” Lopez revealed in a message.

The DENR created the National Anti-Environmental Crime Task Force (NAECTF) last August 2017 with the mandate of targeting what Lopez termed “environmental offenders.”

NAECTF is a joint effort between the DENR, DOJ, DILG, PNP, AFP, DOLE, DSWD and affected local government units. Its functions include investigation, enforcement, prosecution and rehabilitation.

The task force’s latest operation involved the confiscation of close to 29,000 board feet of illegally-cut logs in Bulacan at the Angat Watershed area last week. Earlier successes mainly in Mindanao netted illegal loggers in Agusan del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and Compostela Valley.

“Just as important, we follow the principle that without rehabilitation and economic alternatives, we cannot improve the lives of affected communities and lift them from dependency on extractive activities such as mining,” the DENR chief emphasized.

The DENR ordered the closure of 23 mines, while75 mining agreements were given show-cause orders last February.

“In the last two months, the DENR has worked with closed mine communities to find sustainable solutions that balance livelihood and ecological protection. In CARAGA, for instance, we have allocated 4 billion pesos and sought the assistance of 11 line agencies to raise incomes for 30,000 households.”

Lopez dispelled reports that she was not consulting other government agencies.

“We’re working with DOLE and DOT for eco-tourism initiatives. The DSWD is helping with social safety nets. We’re translating our concern for the environment with workable solutions that benefit local communities.” “

“Our critics focus on supposed lack of due process. We focus on sustainability and economic upliftment,” Lopez explained. ### 

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