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Text by Ani Montano
Photos by Rey Vida

Luck is chance. It's what keeps our fingers crossed as we line up our hopes for a changed life in a lotto betting station.

Destiny, on the other hand, is something that awaits us at the other end of the line, the cumulative outcome of what we do.

On September 19, 2012, Orani Water District came face to face with its destiny.

That day, in the hallowed Rizal Ceremonial Hall of Malacañang Palace, adrenalins of excitement raced through three public servants as President Benigno S. Aquino III bestowed the district's Operation and Management Excellence Team with the Civil Service Commission's "PAGASA" Award (Group Category), an award that the commission has been conferring to exemplary public servants since 1975.

The Team was composed of Orani WD General Manager and Team Leader Benigno Andres, and team members Administration Division manager Conrado Buenaventura, Jr. and Technical Division manager Herminigildo Canlas, Sr., all representing a total regular workforce of only 29 serving over 8,000 connections. With the team was the water district's board of directors chaired by Mr. Edmund M. Castañeda, DVM, and members Ms. Pagasa E. Pascual who sits as Vice-Chairman, Ms. Dorothy M. Galicia who acts as Secretary, and Ms. Teresa S. Santos.

President Benigno Aquino assisted by Civil Service Commission Chairman Dr. Francisco Duque presents GM Benigno Andres with the "PAGASA" trophy (Photo courtesy of Orani WD)

Finally, what the district had been doing for years - as a matter of practice -- to up the quality of its water service to the growing Orani community was now being commended, recognized and praised, and without them expecting it.

Lately, Orani WD has always had something good pointing it towards its mission of providing the community with "abundant and affordable potable water with high-quality service, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year" : an open-minded management and a supportive board of directors.

Just what did the Civil Service Commission (CSC) found in Orani WD worthy of a national award and a presidential presence?

On the award's literature, the CSC recognized Orani WD's "commitment to serve the public better, its good leadership and exemplary management performance" whose end results showed in operational and financial highlights such as:

  • tremendous increase in gross income by 175%
  • 96% impressive increase for its Operating Net Income in a span of 6 years
  • increase in service connections by 70% from 5,624 to 8,011 concessioners
  • decrease in debt equity ratio by 7% because of less borrowing during the years 2009 and 2010
  • with respect to return on fixed asset, 8 to 9% net income generated from the invested capital was maintained which exceeded the 7% acceptable value of the rate of return based on LWUA standard
  • increase in total assets of the district by almost 50%
  • increase in total equity by 35%

CSC also noted that the group has "also shown excellence in cultural, economic, social, physical, spiritual and environmental preservation."

Just doing the job

"We were just doing our job" was what every Orani WD employee this writer talked to was saying.

That "job" was keeping the residents and visitors of this old community in Bataan (Orani was founded by Spanish Dominican missionaries in 1587 and became an independent missionary center in 1741) sated with safe drinking water and a reliable water supply system on a 24/7 basis.

The award was unexpected, unsolicited, a non-target. In today's corporate jargon, not part of their KRA or key result areas. It should also be noted that the CSC had taken precautions in their evaluation process to make certain that nothing but the subject's records and performance would determine whether Orani WD would get the award or not.

Orani WD's staff: by most definitions, a family

During the evaluation period which timetable the CSC kept to itself, an official from the agency's regional office visited Orani, unannounced and incognito and, for several days, interviewed town officials and residents on the operations and quality of service from the community's water service provider. When water district people learned of the official's presence much later, they offered to extend the official their hospitality, something Orani WD extends to its guests as part of its corporate culture. But the official, this writer was told, politely declined; he had already done his evaluative work at the same time.

A lean and coherent group of public servants

Orani WD has a core workforce of twenty-nine (29) men and women distributed between two divisions: administration and technical.

GM Benigno "Benni" Andres

Orani WD general manager Benigno Andres, GM Benni to friends and staff alike, proudly describes his staff this way: "They are all trained in multi-tasking, and they always deliver." A random and casual talk with any of his staff mirrors that same description, that same pride.

These 29 multi-trained individuals are responsible for that basic comfort of the community , which seems to have evaded some of Orani's neighbors in Bataan that the water district had made plans to expand service to these areas. This lean group services over 8,000 individual water service connections (as of December 2012) -- a number that routinely increases -- in 28 of the first-class town's 29 barangays. The first-class Orani community has close to 60,000 residents living in roughly 11,000 households, says a census done several years back.

Technical chief Hermie Canlas : teamwork works for OWD

GM Benni explains that his lean organization is able to measure up to job demands because they are well-trained, motivated and equipped with the right tools.

Such motivation, for instance, is unmistakable in Herminigildo S. Canlas, Sr. He is one of the earlier employees of the district, back in the days when it was a fledgling institution in the community and when the idea of treating as a commodity the water that one consumes was just as strange as the water district concept that brought it forth.

Known to friends and staff as Hermie, Mr. Canlas rose from his early meter reading and maintenance post to head Orani WD's Technical Division. He is an undergraduate and has no qualms talking about it. He once subscribed to the belief: "kung di graduate, di magagampanan ang trabaho." But the district equipped this non-engineer with trainings and exposures to boost his previous technical experiences, and Hermie absorbed the knowledge like a sponge would soak up water. GM Benni trusted him, he said, that the division under his leadership would perform well and it did. "Ang sekreto namin ay teamwork," Hermie confided.

Embracing IT

Rather than be wary of the digital age and the fast-paced developments in IT or information technology, Orani WD's management opted to avail of its best features that could optimize the water district's operation and its staff's work.

"Hindi na kami pang-cellphone lang (We now have gone beyond cellphones)," quipped one of GM Andres' staff. While said in jest, that statement had more substance to it than a Philippine noontime show's gags.

OWD Board of Directors

Mr. Edmund Castañeda, DVM

Ms. Pagasa E. Pascual
Vice Chairman

Ms. Dorothy M. Galicia

Ms. Teresa S. Santos

For starters, the water district began using a customized program for its billing and collection as early as 1999. While the water district could not really describe the program and what it expected of it as a perfect match, Orani WD apparently appreciated its potentials and, if a better or improved program would be in place, the boost to the district's quality of service in terms of how efficient its billing and collection would be perceived by its clients, and the significant man-hours saved. So management set its eyes on improvement of the program and system.

Thus, by 2003, Orani WD could boast of being the only water district in the Bataan peninsula to have a fully computerized system.

That same year, the district had engaged the services of an IT corporation familiar with the needs of water districts and electric cooperatives, among other clients. It also hired an IT specialist "to further develop the water district core competency in this area." No longer a newbie in the IT field, the water district went on to explore other the benefits of the digital age, including an intranet system that keeps its employees "on line" with each other.

To date, Orani WD has embedded into its operations the following IT tools:

  • TUBS : Total Utility Billing System for Billing & Collection using Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) with Printer for on-the-spot meter reading & billing
  • TAAPS : Total Attendance and Administrative Monitoring & Payroll System with EDS Finger ID System
  • TWMS : Total Works Management for Inventories
  • TGLS : Total General Ledger Systems for Accounting

In addition, Orani WD has discontinued the use of field collectors for bill payments and instead has adopted an office collection scheme using a Point-of-Sale (POS) system allowing real-time and up-to-date transaction records and account payment. Thus, any Aling Nita or Mrs. Santos who suddenly remembers she has a water bill to pay as she happens to pass by the water district office can make that transaction even if she also happens to have left her billing statement at home. This convenience has also protected the money payments of the district's clients and eliminated risks of money collection misuse on the one hand, and encouraged regular visits by its clients thereby enhancing client-water district feedback mechanism and direct interaction of employees with those they are sworn to serve.

Management's acceptance of useful features of the digital age has substantially contributed to Orani WD's transition into what one can sweetly call a "platinum period" in its corporate life.

A family home cum public service center

One would hardly fail to notice, as one enters Orani WD's premises, the large, silvery shiny letters boldly declaring the building as "Home of Orani Water District."

True to the meaning of "home," those who work within its walls consider their colleagues as family. A family that does not fall short of extending a warm smile to clients, guests, even strangers like this writer, as they step inside that home.

Couple Bernard and Sheila Milante: a radical change of home that was worth it

It was this culture of making one pleasantly feel at home that drove Bernard Milante, the district's IT administrator, to relocate from Bicol, his home province, to Orani, convince his girlfriend to do the same, get married, start a family and a new life in Orani. It was a big move to transform one's life from being a Bicolano to becoming a Bataanon. To this day, the couple has never regretted that move.

The fact is, the water district's activities in implementing its CSR (corporate social responsibility) program helped in Bernard and Sheila Milante's integration into the community as much as these facilitated the community's acceptance of the water district as part of Orani, not simply as a local business but as a town institution.

Orani WD's presence is not only in the water that residents drink. Nor is it simply in the monthly bills that they pay. Orani WD is in the improvement of the economic and social standing of deserving residents, in the community's celebrations and fun activities, and in the town's environmental concerns, among others.

A face one with its people

Chairman Castañeda (third from left) poses with students -- here seen displaying their diplomas -- who recently graduated as Orani WD scholars (Photo courtesy of Orani WD)

Some Orani WD employees display the banner of the banca race (photo below) the WD helped organize during the recent town fiesta (Photo courtesy of Orani WD)

Since 1998, the district has been awarding scholarships to deserving students from the community, initially for a one-year secondary education assistance that the district upgraded in 2008 to a four-year complete tertiary education scholarship.

In fiesta celebrations, that centuries-old Filipino tradition still religiously and merrily observed in Orani as in all other provincial communities in the country, Orani WD is also felt by the community it serves; even allowing itself to be part of the town's fiesta committee. Last year, they tapped various Orani citizens' as well as government organizations into joining fiesta activities such as fun runs and banca races.

But beyond the face of an institution breathing with the community, Orani WD has long been presenting itself as an advocate both of personal and environmental health. For one, the district has been sponsoring an annual 3-kilometer, 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer fun runs to "create a higher level of awareness on the importance of drinking potable water and maintaining good health." This has been an activity since 1999 and gathers participants from a wide age range, including those above 60; recently, it has embedded into the fun run activity the environmental health of the district's Tala Watershed, encouraging donations for its protection and preservation.

Tree planting : Inside Orani WD's watershed area at the Bataan Natural Park, OWD employees are joined by personnel from LWUA, DENR, PNB and the Army's 24th Infantry Brigade in planting 10,000 Ficus Nota or Tibig seedlings.

It has also reinforced its institutional concern for matters affecting the Orani river, mounting steel wire fences on all river bridges traversing the town to deter "throwing of solid waste into the river." It has also enrolled the cooperation of town leaders and chairmen of the different barangays surrounding the Orani river into an organization called "Samahang Bigay-Buhay sa Kailugan, " looking at "increasing the level of awareness of the people on the beauty of having a clean and beautiful river" as its accomplishment. (The water district has also shown a similar commitment to the government's effort to arrest or correct the degradation of our environment;)

GM Benni: transforming OWD into a "he man" of Orani

Home of the faithful, home of the brave

Orani WD was established in 1978, just a few years after the LWUA-Water District Concept was born through the Provincial Water Utilities Act of 1973. However, the district did not take off as expected, tied down by "talks of mismanagement and anomalies;" some residents even came close to describing the institution with unprintable words. LWUA, as overseer, was mandated to implement a full take over of its operations and management. It did so in 1992. After two years, LWUA believed it had put the district back on track and, with confidence, searched for and installed a new regular General Manager on the 16th of December, 1994.

That new man LWUA put its confidence in is Orani WD's current general manager, Benigno Andres. GM Benni is an economics graduate from Ateneo de Manila, a leader who, true to his Atenean academic upbringing, is both athletically and intellectually-driven. He remains an idealist, someone not unfamiliar with meeting challenges. He was then with a Makati multinational firm pioneering in developing and marketing a communications (Easy Call) concept which paved the way for us to send and receive real-time messages or call each other from anywhere with a little gadget we casually refer to as "cp" or "cellphones."

GM Benni : true to his Atenean upbringing, he chose to face the Orani challenge and serve the people of his birthtown

He looked at Orani WD as a challenge. Just as importantly, he was looking at that challenge through the eyes of someone from Orani; he was born and raised in the town.

GM Benni began facing the challenge by defining the organization's direction, in consultation with "a good sample of its publics." His approach, embedded into a set of plans drawn up to 2025, was definite: cut expenses, improve revenues. Gradually, water service did improve through well-calculated rehab works, interconnecting all pump stations to eliminate interruptions, increasing the network's water pressure and water supply schedule to a 24-hour routine, and for accuracy, introduced water pressure monitoring via radio waves.

Organization-wise, GM Benni opted for a small but motivated workforce. "Lean but effective," he said. He understood the human side of his employees, their needs. Competitive salaries would give meaning to their employment, but the challenge would be - and still is -- that the water district would push them to perform and be efficient. Given the water district's limited funds at the time, it was a gamble for the new general manager. GM Benni had faith on his people; he made the gamble and implemented the Salary Standardization Law which increased a government worker's pay to a level comparable to a private worker's rate. Orani WD was among the first water districts in the country to give its employees the benefits of the law.

Orani WD's OWDEE cooperative : now a successful multi-million peso undertaking

But GM Benni did not stop at that in providing employees with motivation. In 1996, he initiated the formation of an employee cooperative that has undergone several transformations into what is now the OWDEE Cooperative. Officially registered with the Cooperative Development Authority, OWDEE is now a multi-million peso undertaking that already includes non-water district employees as associate members. To many employees, OWDEE has stood up for them during financially critical times.

In Orani WD's view, the "perform and be efficient" part of the deal - the employees' part -- meant that the latter should accept and learn to be multi-skilled. Thus, opportunities were given for Orani WD employees to be transformed into a group of public servants very familiar with multi-tasking. For this end of the challenge, GM Benni took steps to arm his employees with skills and knowledge through trainings and seminars and keep them abreast with "current and emerging technologies."

If one looks at Orani WD today as CSC did, one would have no doubts that GM Benni's "gamble" paid off. A study conducted several years ago by American company Development Alternatives, Inc. classified Orani Water District as one of the six Class "A" water districts in the country, validating its reclassification from an average category water district to big in 2003 "for attaining a high level of performance in providing water service to its publics."

As one enters the OWD office, one is welcomed into a home

Since then, Orani WD has acquired its new three-storey building (2006), received a special award for being a Creditworthy WD (2007), was granted authority by the CSC under its Acceditation Program - the first water district in Bataan to be given such - which authorized the district to take final action on appointments (2008), cited by the CSC as "the first water district in Region 3 to comply with the Anti-Red Tape Law" when it launched its Citizen's Charter (2009).

The Orani WD story is all about focused and intelligent leadership as much as it is about dedicated followers, and just as much as about a contented, well-served public. Ever since the water district was turned over to a regular management and policy-making status, its pace has always been a run, a run to win, as it set its eyes beyond Orani's borders to neighboring areas where a safe and modern water supply system is still something of a pipe dream, so to speak.



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