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Water District feature

By TM Reynoso / Photos by Rey M. Vida

Impressions, Images of Infanta

It was my first time to visit Infanta, a coastal town in the northern Quezon Province along the eastern seaboard of Luzon facing the Pacific about 130 kilometers southeast of Metro Manila.

My impression of Infanta before my visit was that of a quaint, rustic little seaside fishing town with long sandy beaches constantly beaten by huge waves of foaming, crystal-clear Pacific seawater while set against the formidable backdrop of the rugged rainforest ranges of the Sierra Madre mountains.

Another impression of Infanta was that of an isolated coastal community made up mostly of fisherfolk which PAGASA-the national weather bureau--- usually cited as an unflattering reference point whenever tropical storms and strong typhoons spawned by the northwest monsoon threaten or pass through the country.

These impressions and images of Infanta were magnified many times when late in 2004, a typhoon locally code-named " Winnie" dumped what weather experts estimated as a month's quantity of rainfall on Infanta and its surrounding areas in just 24 hours.

The Freak Storm :Typhoon Winnie Puts Infanta In Disaster Map

Typhoon "Winnie"'s continuous torrential downpour triggered massive landslides along the slopes of the Sierra Madre overlooking the so-called REINA (Real-Infanta-Nakar) triangle of coastal towns. Masses of logs, uprooted trees, loose rocks and dirt and other debris accumulated along in various points of the slope trapping huge amounts of rain water and thereby creating some sorts of dams. When water pressure build up to breaking point , those giant "dam-like" formations suddenly broke loose sending tons of water rushing towards Infanta at the speed of a tsunami or tidal wave.

Infanta Water District's interim general manager Engineer Mario "Macky" Macatangay of LWUA (left) with the author in one of the district's pumping stations

The ensuing two-storey high flashfloods that swept through many areas of Infanta resulted into hundreds of deaths and injured and tens of millions pesos worth of crops, properties and structures damaged or totally destroyed.

The destruction scene in Infanta as shown on TV would flash on my mind some years later when a huge tsunami spawned by a strong undersea quake engulfed and devastated coastal communities in countries as Sri Lanka and Bangla Desh along the Indian Ocean and reaching as far as Bali and Bandar Ache in Indonesia and Phuket in Thailand. As in those places, the surface of most of Infanta was virually stripped of vegetation and structures and in their places were tons after tons of accumulated forest debris and mud.

Posthaste, a massive rehabilitation effort was undertaken by the national government with the support and assistance of foreign and international agencies but many observers said that it would take years or even decades before Infanta could recover.

Silver Lining: Infanta Recovers, Makes New Bid For Int'l Sea Port

I was therefore surprised---pleasantly surprised---- to see an entirely different scene in Infanta in my recent first visit!

Infanta is virtually buzzing and bustling with activities, especially commercial activities in and around the poblacion area with people going about the regular normal routine of going to work, school, hawking and trading or just simply strolling or hanging or looking around particularly in the town's new multi-level market place and in various eateries and shops situated in a quite vast commercial block in the town center.

Above, fish traders show off the kind of fish available from Infanta's fishport which the town is bidding for conversion into an internatioal seaport; below, a fruit and vegetable vendor at the town's bustling market

One could not discern in the look of the people's faces or in their demeanor that a cataclysmic event happened there less than 10 years ago.

One clear sign that Infanta has not only recovered but also on its way to making another strong bid for its conversion to an international sea port facing the Pacific is the construction of the Marikina-Infanta Road which is now nearing completion. The Marikina-Infanta Road will cut travel time to and from Metro Manila from the present three to four hours depending on the weather condition to half that long.

The municipal government under the tested and inspiring leadership of Mayor Filipina Grace America has also consistently dove-tailed its plans and projects with the eventual attainment and fulfillment of the cherished dream that started in the 1970s yet for the Philippines, specifically the island of Luzon, to have an international sea port facing the Pacific.

Mayor America said that having an international port in Infanta would allow local and foreign shipping plying the Pacific route to load and unload goods and products or make port calls without having to sail around Luzon just to reach the existing international sea ports in Manila and Batangas City facing the China Sea.
It also help that the Quezon provincial government has been pouring ordinate development assistance to Infanta and surrounding municipalities since the 2004 natural disaster.

Silver Lining: Infanta Quezon Water District Weathers Stern Trials

One of the institutions in Infanta that was also severely hit by the 2004 calamity which has not only remarkably recovered but even managed to prosper and even expand its operation is the Infanta Quezon Water District or more endearly known to the locals as IQWD.

And it took another "setback" in the form of a management crisis which prompted the direct intervention and takeover by the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) to accelerate the process of recovery and prime the water district towards more gains and accomplishments to its benefit and the greater good of the community.

The Infanta Quezon WD's Board of Directors implemented an innovative approach to recovery from losses brought about by the devastating storms.

In November 2004, the municipality of Infanta was savagely devastated by Typhoon "Winnie". It brought severe flooding aggravated even more by the debris which consisted of logs and uprooted trees and the thick mud that resulted to severe loss of lives and extensive damage to properties.

The water district was not spared from the devastation. The IQWD sustained and declared a total loss of P7.2M worth of assets and which became the subject of an application for write-off with COA.

Among those inundated and severly affected by the flood were three (3) of four (4) water sources/pumping stations including the one with the highest capacity in terms of production and which was constructed and completed by virtue of a P4.2M Level 3 loan from LWUA. Its building together with the generator set and discharge lines were totally damaged by the flood. The service lines in the whole Poblacion area were likewise destroyed including thousands of water meters which were later replaced and/or repaired.

IQWD's continuous expansion projects attest to the district's unbroken spirit

The employees, thru sheer determination, worked hard without salaries for three months to revive and rehabilitate the water district. They survived on the grace of donations from friends and fellow workers from other water districts and for quite some time they rely on noodles and canned foods to fill their empty stomachs.

The WD was able to rehabilitate Pumping Station No. 3 and with both Pumping Station Nos. 3 and 4 working, the IQWD was able to restore water service to a greater portion of the Poblacion and its environs.

The IQWD also received donations from the German Government which included the construction of an elevated building, centrifugal pump, controls and a gen set, for pumping station no. 1 However, Pumping Station No. 1 which was built during the NAWASA years yet had to be de-commissioned since its (spring) water source could no longer provide the needed water requirement of the pump aside from the other minerals that have been tested to be contaminating the water.

Due to lengthy stoppage of operations as a result of the calamity, the IQWD was forced to default on the payment of its obligations with LWUA and other creditors including remittances of employee contributions with GSIS. The IQWD was not granted moratorium by the GSIS despite the appeal and instead charges were filed with the Ombudsman and the National Judicial Region of Pasay City against the IQWD aside from the suspension of the employees benefits. Fortunately, the suspension of employees benefits was later lifted by the GSIS.

Repair of the typhoon-damaged bridge to keep Infanta's commerce going

To help the IQWD, it was included by LWUA in the short list of about 60 small water districts as possible beneficiaries of the P:5M grant from the Japanese Inetrnational Cooperation Agency (JICA). Unfortunately, the water district was not able to meet certain parameters set-up by JICA and was instead complimented with a set of computer and a copying machine courtesy of JICA.

In December 2006, heavy rainfall again swelled the Agos River. It flooded several barangays nestled closest to the Agos River and several low lying areas in the Poblacion. The towns people feared that it will replicate the flooding in 2004, fortunately the flooding was far from being dangerous. Nonetheless, a huge tree trunk inundated by the swelling of Agos River felled the electric pole destroying the transformers supplying IQWD Pumping Station 3. It took nearly four (4) months before power was restored with a staggering cost to the water district.

Early on the second quarter of 2007, one of the water district's two (2) operating pumping station manifested sand pumping to an alarming level. The WD immediately sought technical assistance from LWUA which recommended the immediate pull-out of the pump and suggested measures to address the problem. For over a month the well was inoperable. The installation of a shroud to shield the pump and motor against sand pumping proved to be effective and except for one (1) minor repair in the third quarter of 2007, the well operated normally.

This series of events contributed much to the failure of the WD to comply with the payment proposal to update the loan arrearages with LWUA. Then, on December 12, 2007, the then incumbent GM Luis C. Utulo tendered his irrevocable resignation due to his irreconcilable differences with the Board of Directors. The Board accepted his resignation and also requested for LWUA intervention thru management take-over.

On Jan. 15, 2008, LWUA installed Engineer Mario " Macky" Macatangay as Interim General Manager and that proved to be a significant turning point as far as the fortunes of the IQWD is concerned.

Silver Lining: LWUA's Direct Intervention-Steering IQWD Back On Track

LWUA's installation of its staff Engineer Mario " Macky" Macatangay as Interim General Manager proved to be a turning point for IQWD in terms of its fortunes

When IGM Macky came, two pumping stations were operational with a combined capacity of 50 lps. However, non revenue water was significantly high at 48%, thus, rehabilitation of the existing system was necessary to reduce the NRW. There were bout 3,100 active service connections which accounted for about P1.0M monthly billings. However, accounts payable to suppliers still remained at about P2.0M while loan arrearages with LWUA was placed at P2.67M as of March 2008.

Through IGM Macky, the IQWD sought financial relief thru loan re-structuring from LWUA, and committed to implement Programs of Works (POWs) for the reduction of NRW to an acceptable level of 25% and for improvement and expansion of the system as well as increasing production to meet the projected increase in water demand. The program of works was to be implemented yearly starting CY 2008 until 2012.

Significantly, IGM Macky also implemented expansion projects in collaboration with the LGU and the barangays. Under this scheme, the concerned barangays allocated portion of their Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) for use by the water district in extending potable water service to their constituents. The said IRA portion advanced by the barangay shall be paid back by the IQWD in equal monthly installments over a perod of five years commencing after generating at least ten service connections in the expansion area. The LGU also contributed financially to these expansion projects of the IQWD. However, the LGU counterpart was treated as equity contributions not subject to repayment by the water district.

Telltale signs of a community trusing an active water supply provider: fire hydrants and water meters

As a result of this innovative program, the IQWD was able to extend potable water service to twenty barangays including their sitios and puroks which were previously unserved. Out of the total of 36 barangays in Infanta, 34 are now fully or substantially served by the IQWD. Service connections has increased from 3,100 in December 2008 to 4,300 by December 2011.

Under GM Macky's adept stewardship and prudent financial management, the WD has managed to reduce accounts payables to suppliers, pay its arrearages with the local electric cooperative, pay monetization of leave credits of employees and pay the arrearages in contributions with GSIS, Pagibig and Philhealth. With the additional revenues generated with the implementation of the approved water rates, the WD went on to further reduce its account payable with the suppliers and at the same time implement programs for the reduction of NRW and expansion of the system.

The IQWD also availed of a P22.5 million loan from LWUA under the Non-LWUA Initiative Fund program for additional source development, electro-mechanical equipment, rehabilitation of existing system and clustering of service connections. Out of a total loan allocation, only P13.1 million was released by LWUA but the IQWD was able to complete its approved program of work utilizing its own funds. Upon completion, the water district's non-revenue water was dramatically reduced resulting to increased system pressure and improved level of service.

By the time of GM Macky's third year in 2010, the key performance indicators were getting better and with the approval of the LWUA financial relief, the IQWD was in a better fiscal shape vis a vis its obligations to LWUA.

More importantly,with the rehabilitation, improvement and expansion effected with the support of the NLIF loan from LWUA, the IQWD has all but left behind the adverse effects and the setbacks caused by the November 2004 tragedy on the water district and its operation.

August 2011

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