Lawmakers take steps to protect Abra River

BAGUIO CITY — Lawmakers at the House of Representatives took a big step towards protecting the Abra River basin, one of the country’s five biggest rivers, after the Committee on Government Enterprises and Privatization approved House Bill 2653 filed by Abra representative JB Bernos seeking to establish the Abra River Basin Development Authority (ARBDA).

HB 2653 will institute the ARBDA to protect the river basin that flows through Abra and parts of Ilocos Sur, Mountain Province and Benguet.

Rep. Bernos explained that the river, a major body of water in Abra, needs to be shielded from the harmful effects of man-made and natural disasters, citing uncontrolled industrialization, forest denudation, rapid population growth and poor drainage as main factors that affect the viability of the Abra River.

“The mighty Abra River breathes life to our province,” Rep. Bernos said.  “It is imperative, therefore, to that we do everything within our power to protect it for posterity.”

The proposed Abra River Basin Development Authority (ARBDA) shall be an independent regulatory body under the Office of the President with quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative powers. It will serve as the primary government agency that shall coordinate, plan, manage, and implement development programs and resource utilization in the Abra River Basin system, vested with the power to issue orders or decisions to compel compliance with provisions of the law and to adopt rules and regulations governing its mandate.

ARBDA shall focus on four thematic areas that are relevant to the river basin: watershed management and development; water resource management and development; marine and freshwater management; and disaster risk reduction-climate change adaptation development.

Rep. Bernos further cites, “these are especially true when strong floods affect our lives and livelihood. We should take a proactive role in protecting a very integral part of our economy as an agricultural community and of our identity as Abreños.”

This measure seeks to institute a consultative assembly composed of all sectors within the Abra River Basin System to involve them in crafting recommendations to better improve the management of the river basin, the Abra lawmaker said.

Penalties for discharging, depositing, or even causing to be deposited matter of any kind along the margins or the water of the Abra River and the discharging, injecting, or allowing to seep into the soil or subsoil of any substance that may pollute the Abra River groundwater; operation of facilities and discharging regulated water pollutants without valid permits; disposal of potentially infectious medical waste, and transportation or dumping of sewage sludge, solid waste or industrial waste into the river range from imprisonment for two to four years, and a fine of Php 50,000 to Php 100,000.

“We aim to instill the value and significance of the Abra River, that actions have heavy consequences not only for today, but for the future of the Abra River Basin System,” Rep. Bernos said. ●