By Rey Panaligan
A civil society group on Friday vowed to challenge the increases in water rates of P5.73 and P6.26 per cubic meter implemented by Maynilad and Manila Water, respectively, starting this month and spread over five years.
Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. said they will exhaust first all administrative remedies before the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage System (MWSS).
In a press statement given to justice and court reporters, Reyes said that should the group fail to get relief from MWSS, it will elevate the issue before the courts. He said the water rate increases have “hidden increases” that add to the “skyrocketing expenses” of consumers.
He said: “The increases were the result of the rate rebasing exercise which takes place every five years. Maynilad was granted a P5.73 per cubic meter rate hike spread over five years while Manila Water was granted a P6.26 per cubic meter rate hike also spread over five years.”
“However, what was not fully disclosed to consumers during public consultations is that any increase in the basic charges will also result in an increase in the environmental and sewerage charges, as these are percentages of the basic charge,” he said.
Reyes explained that the environmental charge is 20 per cent of the combined basic charge and foreign currency adjustment, applicable to all customers.
The sewerage charge, on the other hand, is 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the basic charge for commercial and industrial customers. “Any increase in the basic charge results in an automatic increase in the environmental and sewerage charges,” he stressed.
Reyes lamented that the “hidden increases were not properly explained in the matrix released by MWSS announcing its approval of the increases.”
“The matrix only shows a comparison between the old basic rates and the new rates, but fails to explain to the consumers that environmental and sewerage charges also increased as a result,” he said.
“These issues were not even addressed during the so-called public consultations with consumers, as consultations were only focused on the rate rebasing. This is an injustice to consumers, who have a right to know where their money is going and why,” he added.
Thus, he pointed out that the two private water concessionaires were, in effect, granted an automatic increase in the environmental and sewerage charges without the benefit of public hearings.
Citing statistics, Reyes said that environmental fees as a percentage of the basic rates have gone up from 10 percent to 20 per cent over the past 20 years.
“Despite the increase, the MWSS admits that only 14 percent of the total service areas are currently covered by the sewerage services of both Maynilad and Manila Water,” he said.
Also to be adjusted as a result of the increase in basic charges are the Foreign Currency Differential Adjustment (FCDA) which is 6.11 per cent of the new basic charge, as well as the value added tax (VAT) which is 12 per cent each for the basic charge, environmental and sewerage charges, and the maintenance service charge.
“It is therefore important that the issue of ‘hidden increases’ be explained by government regulators as well as investigated by Congress, which approved the Clean Water Act mandating concessionaires to provide adequate treatment facilities for waste water,” Reyes said.
“We are already having a difficult time with the increases in the prices of rice and jeepney fares. This is another additional burden. When will the government step in to protect the interests of its citizens?” he lamented.