Protect critical infrastructure, now

When could be the Philippines have its infrastructure development plan, especially now that Filipinos are facing a water crisis?

The water crisis in the eastern part of Metro Manila, aggravated by the ill-conceived rotating schedule, brought out an urgent task that any administration should have invested, but unfortunately nothing has been done. Whether there was a bypass that needed opening, or the connecting distribution pipes from Angat Dam to La Mesa Dam are riddled with rusting holes hence the huge leakages, or a bad simulation leading to bad decisions could have been dealt with via a redundancy protocol in law and in operations. Water, after all, is part and parcel of utilities management that the government of a country has to be concerned with, if it plans to provide the basic services to its citizens in a 24/7 manner.

The Manila Water problem resulted in a crisis of epic proportions that necessitated PRRD to threaten everyone just to have water delivered to residents of the metropolis. The protocols of Manila Water on managing risks were nowhere. Contingency plans did not kick in and worse, citizens who can read maps, satellite photos and do correlation studies were able to pinpoint the problems in the system which contradict the official lines offered by Manila Water. Until today, there no effort has been made to respond to the drying up of the La Mesa Dam when there was plenty of water in the Angat Dam.

With the security of a critical infrastructure law, similar to the US and Australia, we can “improve the transparency of the ownership and operational control of critical infrastructure in order to better understand those risks; and facilitate cooperation and collaboration between all levels of government, and regulators, owners and operators of critical infrastructure, in order to identify and manage those risks.”

If we follow the US model, there are 16 critical infrastructure sectors whose assets, systems and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof. The 16 critical sectors are chemical, commercial facilities, communications, critical manufacturing, dams, defense industrial base, emergency services, energy, financial, food and agricultural, government facilities, healthcare and public health, information technology, nuclear reactors, materials and waster, transportation systems, and water and wastewater systems.

The Australian model covers electricity, water, ports, gas and such other industries as the state desires. The law defines information, in relation to a critical infrastructure asset, that is obtained under the law as protected information. The fact that an asset is declared under the law to be a critical infrastructure asset is also protected information. This way government has elbow room to get franchise holders to do their jobs and to enter and determine the case of failure to comply with the franchise and accordingly decide in favor of protecting taxpayers.

For the European Union (EU), critical infrastructure is an “asset or system which is essential for the maintenance of vital societal functions. The damage to a critical infrastructure, its destruction or disruption by natural disasters, terrorism, criminal activity or malicious behavior, may have a significant negative impact for the security” of the EU and the well-being of its citizens. Reducing the vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure and increasing their resilience is one of the major objectives of EU’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Program. It is the EU’s governing principle that an adequate level of protection must be ensured and the detrimental effects of disruptions on the society and citizens must be limited as far as possible.

As it is today, we do not even have a national infrastructure development plan. There is nothing on infrastructure in our national security protocols. Infrastructure refers to “the basic physical systems of a business or nation — transportation, communication, sewage, water and electric systems are all examples of infrastructure. These systems tend to be high-cost investments and are vital to a country’s economic development and prosperity.” National infrastructure are therefore “those facilities, systems, sites, information, people, networks and processes, necessary for a country to function and upon which daily life depends.”

Surely, legislators are more than aware of two types of infrastructure as senators and representatives fight it out, tooth and nail, for pork barrel allocation in the proposed GAA 2019. The earmarks and realignments are unbelievable because the budget of 2019 was supposed to be an elections budget, but the delay levels off the campaign between incumbents and challengers. No pork, no grease. No grease, no bought mandate for some.

The two types of infrastructure are hard or soft. Hard refers to the “physical networks necessary for the functioning of a modern industry.” This includes roads, bridges, railways, etc. Soft infrastructure refers to all the institutions that maintain the economic, health, social and cultural standards of a country. This includes educational programs, official statistics, parks and recreational facilities, law enforcement agencies, and emergency services.

Congress should also study, upgrade and modernize the procedure on the grant of franchise for utilities. It cannot just be politics for politics’ sake but for national security of the country. If the same operators are handling two industries and they do not perform at par with the franchise commitments, Congress should be able to cancel the franchise and offer it to who can best deliver the service. Congress should also be wary in granting mother franchise to renewal energies. No single firm should own a franchise for solar, wind, hydrothermal and the like.

If the 18th Congress can get this legislated and PRRD shepherds it through Ledac and PLLO, we just might be on a strong foot for future management of national utilities, whether run by government or the private sector. The Executive and legislative branches must get their act together fast.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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