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Leonor Cleofas, the seasoned leader at the helm of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), is a public servant known for her steadfast dedication to service and innovative approach in managing one of the Philippines' vital utilities. With a public service career spanning four decades, Cleofas has established herself as a leader in the field of water resource management.

Cleofas developed a passion for public service at an early age. She pursued her education with fervor, obtaining a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of the East. With a strong academic foundation and a fervent desire to bring about positive change, she embarked on a career path aimed at addressing the pressing challenges within the water sector.


After passing the civil engineering board exam, Cleofas joined MWSS as a project engineer.

She could have taken the route leading to employment in the private sector or starting her own engineering firm, but instead chose to join government service. "I think that in any person's career, it's more of the satisfaction and contentment that you get out of what you are doing, rather than the material gains you could have," she says. "For us in the government, it's the calling to serve the people that serves as our main motivation."

Another major chance to join the private sector came Cleofas' way in 1997. "When we invited the private sector to help the government deliver water services to the public, we were given the opportunity to transfer to either Manila Water or Maynilad, but I chose to stay with MWSS. I felt satisfied; I felt that I have given something to the government, to the people by serving them, and I could continue to do so by remaining with MWSS. I felt that by staying in government service, I could do more than earn money,” she reveals.


Cleofas’ ascent within the MWSS ranks was marked by her exemplary performance, strategic vision, and unequalled desire to serve. Her expertise in civil engineering, coupled with her innate leadership abilities, did not go unnoticed. From a newly-minted civil engineer who started out as a project engineer within the agency, Cleofas became supervising project engineer, division manager, and project manager. She eventually rose to the position of Deputy Administrator for Engineering and Technical Operations. Upon her (short-lived) retirement in May 2021, she had under her belt major accomplishments such as the completion of a number of water reliability projects, including the Angat Water Utilization and Improvement Project (AWUIP)and Angat Water Transmission Improvement Project (AWTIP).

A few months after her retirement, Cleofas was tapped by then President Rodrigo Duterte to take over MWSS as its first female full-fledged administrator. Her experience and clean track record positioned her as a natural choice to lead the agency. “Because I know very well what we are doing, our mission and vision. It is very critical that we are assured of 24/7 water supply. When I took over as administrator, I wanted to make sure that the vision and mission of MWSS is carried out,” she stresses.

The initial bumps that marked the months after her appointment as MWSS chief executive did not deter Cleofas from doing her best once she was able to get settled. “I was appointed by President Duterte in July 2021, but it took me several months before I can take over because at the time there were still pending matters that the sitting administrator had to accomplish,” she recalls. “And then, in October 2022, I was reappointed by President Ferdinand Marcos.”


For his part, then-outgoing MWSS Chairman and OIC Administrator Reynaldo Velasco expressed confidence that he was leaving the agency in very capable hands. “Her experience, competence and institutional knowledge eliminates the time required to learn the job especially when there are challenges stacked from several fronts,” he said of Cleofas. “I sincerely appreciate her help as my pro-bono consultant after her retirement, taking on increased responsibility even during the height of the COVID crisis. She is the right individual to get the job done and I am grateful to leave MWSS in such capable hands.”

As MWSS administrator, Cleofas, who also holds a degree in Sanitary Engineering from National University and a diploma in Water Supply Management from Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft in Germany, assumed the responsibility of making sure that millions of residents in Metro Manila and surrounding areas are provided with a reliable water supply and efficient sewerage services.

Under Cleofas’ leadership, MWSS went through a paradigm shift towards sustainability and resilience. She spearheaded initiatives aimed at modernizing infrastructure, optimizing operational efficiency, and promoting environmental stewardship. She pushed for the adoption of innovative technologies and practices to enhance water resource management, mitigate the effects of water scarcity, and address the challenges posed by climate change.

The above, among other achievements, according to the administrator, stem from important lessons she has learned through the years. “One of the things that I learned from serving MWSS is to take responsibility for what you’re doing. As we always says, a public office is a public trust. We are accountable and responsible for what we are doing. And I want to make sure that my journey with MWSS is marked by my passion for the work that I am doing,” she states. “Another

is to contribute to and cultivate the organizational excellence within MWSS. MWSS is not just an ordinary agency. It provides service to the people by providing potable water supply and helping ensure a clean environment by way of sewerage and sanitation.”


Beyond her technical expertise, Cleofas is known for her inclusive leadership style and commitment to stakeholder engagement. “I practice participative management,” Cleofas declares. Indeed, she has been known for giving importance to collaboration with various stakeholders, including government agencies, private sector partners, civil society organizations, and local communities, with the goal of achieving shared objectives and fostering sustainable development.

“And, as with other successful agency heads or organization leaders, I also believe in situational management,” she adds, noting that she adapts her leadership style according to changing circumstances. The end goal, however, remains the same: bringing out the best from her people and taking the organization to greater heights.

“MWSS employees really know that I’m very strict when it comes to work,” Cleofas reveals. “I’mnot an eight to five leader. Youcan spend four hours, six hours at the office, but what’s important is your output. You have to deliver, to complete the tasks assigned to you.”

The administrator’s ability to adjust and to connect with her team, even with the younger generation, have done wonders at MWSS. “The employees of MWSS are from the younger generation,” Cleofas shares. “Most of my contemporaries are already retired. This is a challenge for me as administrator, to have our younger generation of employees to really understand what it means to be a government employee or a public servant. It is a good thing that they listen to me, as I can guide them on how to be efficient public servants.”

An integral part of Cleofas’ vision to have human capital that is conscientious of being public servants is the agency’s continuing program on value formation and professional ethics. Through this program, MWSS employees have a clear understanding of what it is to be a government employee, particularly public servants with the needed moral values and proper attitude toward work.


“In any organization, you cannot always have 100 percent satisfied human capital,” Cleofas states. “And this is something that we want to address here at MWSS.”

“I think one legacy that I want to leave with MWS is organizational excellence. In any organization, especially in a government entity, human capital is very important. We have to change the mindset of the people, make them realize that people who chose to be public servants have to really put their heart into everything that they do. People who have elected to join the government sector have to live up to certain standards of excellence,” she asserts.

The real motivation for public servants, Cleofas says, “is not money, because you cannot find money here. You could achieve comfortable living, not only because you have a competitive income, but also because you are confident that you are able to help provide excellent service to the people.”

“When I took over MWSS, I totally changed the personality of the office,” Cleofas continues. “I put emphasis on more transparency and greater accountability. Weare accountable to the president,to the people, to deliver on our mission. When our customers open their eyes, have to have clean, safe water.”


Cleofas’ leadership has earned her and MWSS accolades and recognition. Just recently, she was named as a “Woman Leader in Water” in the World Water Day Awards organized by Maynilad Water Services, Inc. together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and National Water Resources Board. The award recognized more than two dozen water champions, particularly outstanding individuals, institutions, and programs that promote water and environmental sustainability in the country. Specifically, Cleofas was recognized for her role in promoting greater water access and a healthier environment. Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, Finance Undersecretary Catherine Fong, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, and Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna completed the cast of “inspiring women” in the aforementioned category.

The administrator’s strategic leadership and relentless pursuit of excellence have made MWSS stand out as a model of best practices in water governance and management. In 2021, for instance, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) conferred a Bronze Award on MWSS Corporate Office’s (MWSS -CO) Program to Institutionalize Meritocracy and Excellence in Human Resource Management (PRIME-HRM). Prior to this, the MWSS had achieved the prescribed level of maturity inits human resources (HR) system since 2013, reaching the first level of assessment (recognition) for excellence in at least one core HR system. After a thorough evaluation of the MWSS four core HR systems, the CSC gave MWSS-CO its first “award” in August 2021.


According to Cleofas, “ the award demonstrates that everyone contributed to the implementation and compliance with the various PRIME-HRM indicators. Without collaboration, cooperation, and teamwork, the agency will lack the strength and power necessary to accomplish its objectives, particularly as a recognized agency that has excelled in the four core areas of: (1) Recruitment, Selection, and Placement (2) Performance Management System; (3) Learning and Development; and (4) Rewards and Recognition. The award should inspire and motivate us all to do more and work harder to reach the next level... I encourage everyone to keep our vision for 2028 in mind and in our hearts—to be a dependable and reliable agency, with resilient water source infrastructure and competent personnel working under a strong organizational structure.”


The past year has served as proof of what the MWSS, under a dedicated leader like Cleofas, can achieve. The MWSS-CO 2023 Annual Performance Report summarizes the agency’s2023 performance, thus: “From an operations perspective, the MWSS displayed resilience, commitment, and adaptability in braving the several challenges of re-engineering its raw water conveyance infrastructure, implementing short- to medium- term water augmentation projects, and building up the foundations of its long-term water source projects. This three-pronged approach to security, dubbed as the Water Security Pillars of MWSS, act as the keystone strategy of MWSS in ensuring water availability until the year 2050.”

The MWSS went beyond its target of 4,584.40 million liters per day (MLD) water supply capacity, delivering 4,704.38 MLD by the last quarter of 2023. More than 90 percent of this raw water supply came for Angat Dam, with the rest coming from Laguna Lake.

With regard to development of new water sources, the MWSS, through its concessionaires, built additional water treatment plants (WTP) near Laguna Lake. These are the Putatan Water Treatment Plant 1, Putatan Water Treatment Plant 2, and Cardona Water Treatment Plant. The 400 MLD that these treatment plants supply daily have helped lessen the reliance on Angat Dam, even as the MWSS tries to address the increasing demand for water.

Through its concessionaires, MWSS more than trebled its target increase in the population connected to the sewerage system. It was able to get more than 650,000 residents to accept and use new sanitation, beyond the 200,000 target.

Overall, MWSS logged a 57% acceptance rate for sanitation services by the fourth quarter of 2023. This is a positive development in relation to government efforts to enhance participation of the public in the rehabilitation of Manila Bay and its tributaries.


Part of Cleofas’ major role is to make sure that Maynilad and Manila Water are able to deliver what is expected of them. “There are key performance indicators and business efficiency measures that they have to meet,” she stresses. “We have celebrated our 25th year of cooperation and partnership. And we feel that we are the most successful water sector partnership in the whole world.” She enumerates good relationship, open communication, and a very clear framework embodied in the concession agreement as the major factors that have led to such successful partnership. “What are you going to deliver? What are the reciprocal benefits or privilege that you will get from MWSS if you deliver on your targets? And of course, we have the Regulatory Office that takes care of the tariff.”

“We cannot leave everything to the private sector,” Cleofas underscores. “That’s the reason why the partnership should be intact. And under the franchise given to the two concessionaries, the MWSS was given the authority to extend the concession agreement to coincide with the term of the franchises given to Manila Water and Maynilad. So last December, the Board of Trustees approved an additional 10 years in the partnership with our two concessionaires. So now the agreements will last until 2047.”

A main reason for this is to continue protecting the public interest. “We made sure that the different projects and programs being implemented by our two concessionaires will not really have a major impact on the water tariff. The concession agreement is framed in such a way that any capital expenditure and operational expenses are prudently and efficiently incurred and are spread throughout the life of the concession. So with the extension to 2047, the tariff was lower by almost 40 percent.”


As Cleofas continues to ensure quality water supply within the two concession areas and to shape the character of MWSS’ human capital, so does she continue to lead the agency in reaching even more customers.

“We are happy that after so many years, the Bulacan Bulk Water Supply, with the concessionary Luzon Clean Water Development Corporation, is operational. And so far, we haven’t received any complaints from the different water districts,” she says of the expanded MWSS service area. “The thing with Bulacan before is that we were getting raw water from the province, but they did not get any potable water in return. Now, however, we are serving the 22 water districts of the province by delivering treated bulk water to them.”

The biggest project whose proper implementation and eventual success now rests in Cleofas’ hands is the Kaliwa Dam project, which aims to bolster water security in the greater Metro Manila area. Moreso because of the close scrutiny that numerous groups have subjected to project to, the MWSS has made sure to strictly adhere to principles of collaboration with all stakeholders, environmental sustainability, and community development so that this milestone project will be completed on time.

“Kaliwa Dam is a long-term water source that we want to develop as part of efforts to ensure water security and continued excellent water supply service,” Cleofas says. The road toward its completion is expected to continue to be a little bumpy, but the MWSS leadership is confident that as its projected positive impact becomes clearer and is better communicated to the public, things will take a smoother turn.

For now, all eyes are on MWSS’ homegrown leader whose visionary leadership continues to leave an indelible mark on the water sector, ensuring equitable access to clean water and sanitation services for generations to come.

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