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#NoProblemIsTuBig For Lima Water's Frontliners Amid Lockdown

As the pandemic forces most of the country to stay at home, you will find Bryan Viernes in the Lima Water laboratory, a one-man team checking the water that flows in and out of the 600-hectare Lima Technology Center. A registered chemist, Bryan works on 12-hour shifts to sample and analyze the quality of wastewater released by each industrial facility, all the while an unseen virus runs rampant.

It is a risk the 29-year-old understands all too well but is willing to take. For the past six weeks, he has been running the laboratory on his own after his fellow analyst from a neighboring city was unable to return to work after the lockdown.

“Important yung work natin kasi kailangan ma-maintain yung quality of water na binibigay, sinu-supply natin sa locators. Kailangan din i-monitor yung quality ng water na ilalabas sa environment,” he said.

“Dapat tuloy-tuloy yun, kasi tuloy-tuloy rin yung pag gamit ng water.”

Working with water

Lima Water Corporation (LWC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Aboitiz InfraCapital, Inc., provides end-to-end water and wastewater services for Lima Technology Center in Malvar, Batangas. With a daily water production capacity of over 10,500 cubic meters per day, LWC supplies about 50,000 workers and visitors with an adequate supply of safe and good quality potable water.

Through its groundwater and deepwell supply system, LWC is also able to serve the high-pressure and 24/7 water demands of 117 industrial manufacturing companies or locators based in the park, including inkjet printer manufacturer Epson, motorcycle maker Yamaha, electronic company Littelfuse and tobacco manufacturer Japan Tobacco, Inc.

ENABLING GROWTH THROUGH SAFE WATER. LWC delivers water and wastewater services to multinational customers based at the park. 

After the Batangas provincial government issued a quarantine advisory on March 14, up to 75 percent of the park’s locators suspended operations during the first month of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and mobilized their respective skeleton workforces. This decreased the water demand to about half of usual levels.

On a normal basis, water demand at LWC reaches 8,000 cubic meters per day or eight million liters per day (MLD). Unlike households that only consume up to 30 cubic meters (cu m.) of water per month, the water requirements of manufacturing companies can go as high as 40,000 cu m. per month which they use for their workforce and to operate production lines.

With facilities closed and only essential workers remaining, demand has understandably dropped.

We've aligned our operating scheme at the 50% level than the usual [demand]. We have adjusted the operating scheme of the deepwells and other critical equipment to keep the efficiencies within acceptable level.

- Hazele Manalo, AVP and General Manager, Lima Water Corporation

Despite fluctuating demand for their services, the Lima Water skeleton workforce has worked tirelessly through the ECQ. Although the CSU-support (procurement, finance and accounting, HR and admin) teams have been working from home since March, about half of the entire LWC workforce are still reporting for on-site duty, with the bulk coming from the operations department. Bryan belongs to the latter group. Armed with masks, gloves, and other protective equipment, the laboratory specialist still goes on his rounds to collect wastewater samples from the few locators that are still active.

SAMPLING. Bryan Viernes acquires samples from the discharge of the centralized sewage treatment plant to serve as the basis of his quality checks. 

The danger is not lost on him, however. In an effort to minimize contact with other people, he shares that he squeezed what was supposed to be a weekly task of gathering samples into one day.

“Since 12 hours a day naman yung work ko, ginawa ko siya in one day. Para mas konti yung pakikisalamuha sa ibang tao,” he shared. “In one day, tinapos ko yung [pagkuha ng sample galing sa] 15 locators for the whole month of April.”  

Once Bryan has gathered enough samples, he then checks for wastewater quality to make sure that it is up to par on all stages --  from when it is individually released by each locator, to the combined wastewater from all sources, to when it has finally been treated and ready to be released into the environment as effluent.

FULL COMPLIANCE. A top-grade laboratory ensures that drinking water at LWC meets national standards while treated wastewater satisfies environmental regulations. 

By monitoring the wastewater across this full cycle, the LWC laboratory is able to point out deficiencies early on. Over 95% of the internal effluent samples pass quality standards, based on a full month’s monitoring, according to Bryan.

On the rare occasion when samples do not meet strict quality standards, he informs the Operations Department right away to make the necessary and timely adjustments.

With a job that requires his full attention, Bryan has been able to keep busy, which he admits has helped him cope with the sadness from not being able to see his family and friends in Manila for over three months. “Malaking tulong yung work kasi at least di ka nape-preoccupy na wala kang ginagawa. At least, may kailangan akong task na gawin every day at may nilo-look forward ako,” he said.

One of the realizations is that I’m fortunate with my company dahil nakakapagwork ako nang hindi na-compromise yung safety at health ko.

Bryan Viernes, Laboratory Specialist, LWC

Protecting the frontline

Lima Water provides free lodging for its skeleton team members through a fully-furnished staff house located within the park. Everyone is provided with food supplies, vitamins, and protective gear as well as a comfortable place to sleep. Five team members from the operations department are currently staying at the staff house, including 24-year-old Jerome Adra, who hails from Batangas City, two hours away from Lima.

Very timely po yung pag-approve sa staffhouse. Mas safe po kami dito kasi yung nakakasalamuha mo lang is kami-kaming magkakatrabaho. Hindi na namin kailangan lumabas rito sa Lima Tech.

Like Bryan, it is business as usual for Jerome who provides maintenance for the locators that remain operational.

“Yung condition lang po yung nag-iba, conditions ng aming work. But the operations are the same,” he said, referring to how it is business as usual for LWC in spite of the drastic changes  brought about by the health crisis. “In terms of operations, there’s not much difference [between pre-COVID and now]. We are always checking and monitoring the facilities.”

Service reliability is one of the three focus areas of LWC, along with compliance and sustainable growth. The LWC team takes this to heart and understands what is at stake if the service is denied or disrupted as illustrated by a story a few weeks into the ECQ.

When locators halted operations and demand nearly halved, pipe pressure rose more than usual. The heightened pressure caused a minor water leak that could have easily resulted in interruption. “We had to immediately implement the repair and isolate the area so there will be no disruption to the locator.” shared Hazele.

In addition to wastewater treatment services, LWC supplies potable water that meets the Philippine National Standards for Drinking Water. As of April 2020, the water from LWC is 100% free from disease-causing microorganisms and 100% compliant with microbiological and physico-chemical standards, demonstrating its commitment to quality processes and services even in this crisis.

The work we do now at LWC is of utmost importance, because our customers rely on us for their most basic need: water.

Roman V.  Azanza III, Chief Operating Officer for Water Business, Aboitiz InfraCapital

To further support locators in this crisis, LWC has extended payment due dates by 20 days from April 10 to April 30 and provided alternative billing and collection methods through email, Lima Connect, online fund transfer, telegraphic transfer, and check pick-up arrangements, according to Hazele.

After two months of strict lockdown under ECQ, Batangas was included in the list of moderate risk areas under General Community Quarantine (GCQ). As the province prepares for a controlled re-opening of the local economy, LWC stands ready to re-calibrate operations and serve locators that may go back online, committing to extend the same level of quality service regardless of the conditions.

“Of course, I feel proud of LWC and the skeleton workforce,” said Jerome from operations. “Iniisip nalang po namin, eto pong ginagawa namin is hindi lang para sa amin, kung hindi para sa aming family, nakakapagprovide kami sa kanila. Para din sa community na sinusupplyan ng LWC.”

Guardians of the water

It’s this same purpose that motivates 41-year-old Allan Titular to work. As network controller, Allan has the critical task of operating all water and wastewater facilities --including one reservoir, one centralized wastewater facility, and six deepwell facilities -- to ensure that locators have enough to keep their production lines running.

When water pressure falls or locators encounter difficulties, he mobilizes a response team for troubleshooting. Like taking care of the pressure level, it is part of Allan’s task to preserve the high customer satisfaction rating that has characterized LWC’s brand of service even in this crisis.

“Kada punta sa area, naka-PPE po kami. Yun po yung ni-re-require namin sa mga operator,” he said. “Lagi kaming naga-alcohol paglabas, pagpasok. Pag may mga tawag sa amin [galing sa] mga locators, nagdidistancing kami.”

Allan was originally a laboratory aide under a third-party agency when the laboratory head recognized his potential and referred him for regularization at LWC. “Sinabi niya po sakin na i-regular po ako sa Lima Water kasi marami na rin akong alam sa wastewater at water line. Naging masaya ako nung sinabi niya yun,” he recalled.

It has been four years since then. “Meron na po akong sariling sasakyan, service. Nakapundar ako ng service para makauwi nang maayos sa bahay.”

Waiting for Allan at home are his five children — four boys and one girl. He knows the risk and can’t hug them just yet. Although tired after a long day of work on top of the one hour it now takes to get to his home in Lipa, Allan rushes to take a bath so that he brings no trace of the plant to his children.

“Pag umuuwi ako, halos lahat ng dala kong gamit, diretso sa labahan. Kahit suot ko, minsan ibabato ko bago pumasok sa bahay,” he said. “Ligo agad pag dumating kahit pagod.”

He savors the time spent at home since he will be staying at the staffhouse for the next two days and will only go home for the next two. LWC needs at least one to two network controllers on duty to run facilities 24/7. “Pag morning shift po ako, di na ko umuuwi. Yun po yung routine ko sa ngayon. Four days work day, three days rest,” he explained.

Until the next time he goes home, Allan will have to rely on his memories of Lipa to keep him going. As more locators prepare to restart, he takes strength from the five faces waiting for him at the other side, a sight he will get to see two days from now.

It is a sacrifice that the management team acknowledges, especially in a crisis when team members’ commitment and resilience are on full display. “It's times like these that our Aboitiz values are tested, but I am truly grateful to have a team that understands what those values truly mean and lives by them,” Roman said. “Thank you very much to our skeleton workforce and frontliners at LWC, for bravely keeping the water running at Lima Technology Center. Take care always and saludo kami sa inyo!"

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