Republic Act No. 9275, An Act Providing for a Comprehensive Water Quality Management and for other Purposes or more widely known as the “Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004” is the primary legislation in the Philippines that protect the country’s water bodies from pollution. It was approved on March 02, 2004 and on May 16, 2005, Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2005-10 which is its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) was released.  The law provides an integrated, holistic and decentralized strategy to prevent and minimize pollution through a multi-sectoral and participatory approach involving all stakeholders. It aims to protect, preserve and revive the quality of fresh, brackish and marine water from land-based sources (industries and commercial establishments, agriculture and community/household activities).

The Clean Water Act covers water quality management in all water bodies; abatement and control of pollution from land-based sources; and enforcement of water quality standards, regulations and penalties. In addition, standards for the transport and disposal of effluent, sewage and septage offsite whether offshore or on land as well as disposal of wastewater on land shall be formulated by DENR.


Water Quality Management Areas (WQMAs)

The designation of Water Quality Management Areas (WQMAs) is one of the important components of the act conceived to managed water quality. The WQMA is a watershed, river basins or water resources region covering the same physiographic unit which affects the physico-chemical and biological reactions and diffusion of pollutants in the bodies of water draining the said area. The aim is to improve the water quality of the areas to meet the guidelines under which they have been classified or to improve their classification so that it meets its projected or potential use. The WQMAs are to be designated by the DENR in coordination with the National Water Resources Board (NWRB).

Management of the WQMAs are localized through the establishment of multi-sectoral governing boards. The Governing Boards are composed of representatives of local government units, relevant national government agencies, duly registered non-government organizations, the concerned water utility sector and the business sector.  The Governing Boards are tasked to manage water quality issues within their jurisdiction by formulating strategies and action plans, and establishing and effecting water quality surveillance and monitoring. At the moment, the DENR has designated 37 WQMAs in the country.


Classification/Reclassification of Surface Fresh Waters, Coastal and Marine Waters

Philippine waters are classified based primarily on beneficial uses that are expected to last at least for the next 10 years. Assessment of water quality are undertaken to determine whether the quality of the water is meeting the criteria for the designated class or uses of the waters.


DENR Administrative Orde No. 2016-08 Water Quality Guidelines (WQG) and General Effluent Standards (GES)

DAO 2016-08 defines the water bodies classification and water quality and effluent standards to be followed to maintain and improve water quality.  Table 1 and Table 2 show the water body classification for fresh water and marine water respectively.  Currently, DENR has classified 942 out of 1060 (89%) water bodies in the Philippines


Table 1. Water Body Classification and Usage of Freshwaters (Rivers, Lakes)

Classification Intended Beneficial Use
Class AA Public Water Supply Class I – Intended primarily for waters having watersheds, which are uninhabited and otherwise protected, and which require only approved disinfection to meet the Philippine National Standards for Drinking Water
Class A (PNSDW) Public Water Supply Class II – For sources of water supply requiring conventional treatment (coagulation, sedimentation, filtration and disinfection) to meet the latest PNSDW
Class B Recreational Water Class I – intended for primary contact recreation (bathing, swimming, skin diving, etc.)
Class C
  • Fishery Water for the propagation and growth of fish and other aquatic resources
  • Recreational Water Class II (Boating, fishing or similar activities)
  • For agriculture, irrigation, and livestock watering)
Class D Navigable waters


Table 2 Water Body Classification and Usage of Marine Waters

Classification Intended Beneficial Use
Class SA
  1. Protected Waters – Waters designated as national or local marine parks, reserves, sanctuaries, and other areas established by law (Presidential Proclamation 1801 and other existing laws), and/or declared as such by appropriate government agency, LGUs, etc.
  2. Fishery Water Class I – Suitable for shellfish harvesting for direct human consumption


Class SB
  1. Fishery Water Class II – Waters suitable for commercial propagation of shellfish and intended as spawning areas for milkfish (Chanos chanos) and similar species
  2. Tourist Zones – For ecotourism and recreational activities
  3. Recreational Water Class I – Intended for primary contact recreation (bathing, swimming, skin diving, etc.)


Class SC
  1. Fishery Water Class III – For the propagation and growth of fish and other aquatic resources and intended for commercial and sustenance fishing
  2. Recreational Water Class II – For boating, fishing, or similar activities
  3. Marshy and/or mangrove areas declared as fish and wildlife sanctuaries


Class SD Navigable waters


Water Quality Guidelines and General Effluent Standards

The Water Quality Guidelines (WQG) are intended to maintain and preserve the quality of all water bodies based on their intended beneficial usage and to prevent and abate pollution and contamination to protect public health, aquatic resources, crops, and other living organisms. The WQG provided in DAO 2016-18 shall be maintained for each water body classification. The Primary parameters are the required minimum water quality parameters to be monitored for each water body while the Secondary parameters are other water quality parameters to be used in baseline assessment as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment and other water quality monitoring purposes

DAO 2016-18 also defines the General Effluent Standards (GES). GES are limits of concentration of wastewater from point sources that can be discharged to a receiving body of water.  These are set of water quality parameters and their corresponding numerical limits prescribed for each of the water classes.  Table 3 shows the GE

Table 3 General Effluent Standards

Parameter Water Body Classification
Class AA Class A Class B Class C Class D
Ammonia as NH 3-N, mg/L NDA 0.5 0.5 0.5 7.5
BOD5, mg/L NDA 20 30 50 120
Boron, mg/L 2 2 3 12 NDA 2 2 3 12
Chloride, mg/L NDA 350 350 450 500
COD, mg/L NDA 60 60 100 200
Color, TCU NDA 100 100 150 300
Cyanide as Free Cyanide, mg/L NDA 0.14 0.14 0.2 0.4
Fluoride, mg/L NDA 2 2 2 4
Nitrate as NO 3-N, mg/L NDA 14 14 14 30
pH (Range) NDA 6.0-9.0 6.0-9.0 6.0-9.5 5.5-9.5
Phosphate, mg/L 1 1 1 10 NDA 1 1 1 10
Selenium, mg/L NDA 0.02 0.02 0.04 0.08
Sulfate, mg/L NDA 500 500 550 1,000
Surfactants (MBAS), mg/L NDA 2 3 15 30
Temperature(h) °C change NDA 3 3 3 3
Total Suspended Solids, mg/L NDA 70 85 100 150
Arsenic, mg/L NDA 0.02 0.02 0.04 0.08
Barium, mg/L NDA 1.5 1.5 6 8
Cadmium, mg/L NDA 0.006 0.006 0.01 0.02
Chromium as Hexavalent Chromium (Cr6+) NDA 0.02 0.02 0.02 0.04
Copper as dissolved Copper, mg/L NDA 0.04 0.04 0.04 0.08
Iron, mg/L NDA 5 5 7.5 35
Lead, mg/L NDA 0.02 0.02 0.1 0.2
Manganese, m g /L NDA 2 2 2 20

NDA – No Discharge Allowed

NOTE: DAO 2016-18 was partially amended by DAO 2021-19 on June 30, 2021.


Wastewater Discharge Permitting System

The Wastewater Discharge Permitting System is being enforced by the DENR and the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) to control wastewater discharges. Facilities that discharge wastewater are required to get a permit to discharge from the DENR or LLDA. The Discharge Permit (DP) is the legal authorization granted by the DENR/LLDA to discharge wastewater into a water body. Wastewater Charges/Fees have to be paid by anyone discharging wastewater into a water body.  This scheme is expected to encourage investments in cleaner production and pollution control technologies to reduce the amount of pollutants generated and discharged.


Prohibited acts under the Clean Water Act

The following are prohibited among other things under the Clean Water Act:

  • Discharging or depositing any water pollutant to the water body, or such which will impede natural flow in the water body
  • Discharging, injecting or allowing to enter into the soil, anything that would pollute groundwater
  • Operating facilities that discharge regulated water pollutants without the valid required permits
  • Disposal of potentially infectious medical waste into sea by vessels
  • Unauthorized transport or dumping into waters of sewage sludge or solid waste.
  • Transport, dumping or discharge of prohibited chemicals, substances or pollutants listed under Toxic Chemicals, Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act (Republic. Act No. 6969)
  • Discharging regulated water pollutants without the valid required discharge permit pursuant to this Act
  • Noncompliance of the LGU with the Water Quality Framework and Management Area Action Plan
  • Refusal to allow entry, inspection and monitoring as well as access to reports and records by the DENR in accordance with this Act
  • Refusal or failure to submit reports and/or designate pollution control officers whenever required by the DENR in accordance with this Act
  • Directly using booster pumps in the distribution system or tampering with the water supply in such a way to alter or impair the water quality
  • Operate facilities that discharge or allow to seep, willfully or through grave negligence, prohibited chemicals, substances, or pollutants listed under R.A. No. 6969, into water bodies.
  • Undertake activities or development and expansion of projects, or operating wastewater treatment/sewerage facilities in violation of P.D.1586 and its IRR.

Upon the recommendation of the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB), anyone who commits prohibited acts such as discharging untreated wastewater into any water body will be fined for every day of violation, the amount of not less than Php 10,000 but not more than Php 200,000. Failure to undertake clean-up operations willfully shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than two years and not more than four years. This also includes a fine of not less than Php 50,000 and not more than Php 100,000 per day of violation. Failure or refusal to clean up which results in serious injury or loss of life or lead to irreversible water contamination of surface, ground, coastal and marine water shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than 6 years and 1 day and not more than 12 years and a fine of Php 500,000/day for each day the contamination or omission continues. In cases of gross violation, a fine of not less than Php 500,000 but not more than Php 3,000,000 will be imposed for each day of violation. Criminal charges may also be filed.

The DENR is the primary agency responsible in the implementation of the Clean Water Act. It is supported by other government organizations, local government units, non -government organizations and the private sector. The roles of other key government agencies are as follows:

  • The Philippine Coast Guard shall enforce water quality standards in marine waters, specifically from offshore sources.
  • The Department of Public Works and Highways through its attached agencies shall provide sewerage and sanitation facilities, and the efficient and safe collection, treatment and disposal of sewage within their area of jurisdiction.
  • The Department of Agriculture shall formulate guidelines for the re-use of wastewater for irrigation and other agricultural uses and for the prevention, control and abatement of pollution from agricultural and aquaculture activities.
  • The Department of Health shall set, revise and enforce drinking water quality standards.
  • The Department of Science and Technology shall evaluate, verify, develop and disseminate pollution prevention and cleaner production technologies.
  • The Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Philippine Information Agency shall prepare and implement a comprehensive and continuing public education and information program.


P.D. 1067 (Water Code of the Philippines and its Amended IRR)

PD 1067 of 1976, commonly known as the Water Code of the Philippines and its amended IRR are the main laws that control and regulate the ownership, appropriation, utilization, exploitation, development, control, conservation or protection of water resources of the Philippines. The underlying principles of the Water Code of the Philippines (PD 1067) is that all waters belong to the State. The State may allow the use or development of waters by administrative concession. The utilization, exploitation, development, conservation and protection of water resources shall be subject to the control and regulation of the government through the National Water Resources Board (NWRB).

Water right is the privilege granted by the government to appropriate and use water. Only citizens of the Philippines, of legal age, as well as juridical persons, who are duly qualified by law to exploit and develop water resources, may apply for water permits. The Water Rights System is a tool for water resources allocation. The measure and limit of appropriation of water shall be beneficial use. “Beneficial use” is the utilization of water in the right amount during the period that the water is needed for producing the benefits for which the water is appropriated

The conditions for the water permit include; payment of annual water charges and quarterly record and reporting of water withdrawal. Non-use of water for the purpose stipulated in the water permit for a period of three consecutive years from the date of issuance or completion of diversion works and necessary structures shall render the permit null and void. Other grounds for revocation or cancellation of the permit includes gross violation of the conditions imposed in the permit, unauthorized sale of water and Willful failure or refusal to comply with rules & regulations of the Board

Contributor: Marivic Arago
Brown &Green Environmental Services, Inc.