Palace, Congress probing water shortage

By Genalyn Kabiling, Ben Rosario, and Vanne Terrazola 

The government has launched an investigation into the water supply interruption in Metro Manila amid concerns it might be artificial.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said there could be inefficiency and mismanagement in the water distribution if the report stating Angat Dam has adequate supply was true.

Residents scramble to get water from a volunteer firetruck at Brgy Barangka Itaas, Mandaluyong CIty, March 14 2019. (Mark Balmores / MANILA BUILLETIN) Residents get water from a volunteer firetruck at Brgy Barangka Itaas, Mandaluyong CIty, March 14, 2019. (Mark Balmores / MANILA BULLETIN)

Angat Dam is the major water supply source for Metro Manila.

“We are precisely investigating to know exactly what is happening or what’s the cause of the lack of water supply,” Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.

“If it is true Angat Dam is full and water is sourced from there, so it might not be true. Something is wrong with the efficiency in distributing as well as the quotas or the shares.. It is artificial if that's the case,” he said.

He made public the information given by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana about the stable level of Angat Dam in an online chat with the Cabinet.

Panelo also wondered why Maynilad, a water concessioner, was not having the same problem as Manila Water if both companies get the supply from Angat Dam.

“If the source is full and another concessionaire is also full, why is the other one not full? That's the logic there,” he said.

If mismanagement is proven true, Panelo assured that the government would hold accountable those involved.

Both houses of Congress will be conducting separate investigations.

Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, chairman of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development, said his panel and the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development will jointly conduct the legislative inquiry into the water shortage.

Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo “Albee” Benitez, chairman of the housing panel, said he is willing to join Castelo in probing the controversy.

The suddenness of the water crisis has raised serious questions about the truth state of the shortage.

Concerned local officials of affected areas have aired fears that the water crisis was purposely created to pressure Filipinos into supporting the proposed implementation of the multi-billion water project to be funded out of a loan from China.

Benitez said the House panels will dig deep into the real cause of the water shortage.

“We need to get a clear picture of the situation and how we’re going to deal with it because a lot of people are already getting adversely affected by the problem,” Castelo said.

“We will need explanations from the concessionaires, regulators, and the experts why we got into this mess and their suggestion on how we can get out of it,” he added.

At the Senate, the Committee on Public Services will start probing on March 19 the water crisis experienced in several cities of Metro Manila and Rizal.

Senator Grace Poe, committee chair, on Thursday said she has invited concerned government officials and representatives from the private water concessionaires in the legislative inquiry that sought to address the “sudden” shortage in water supply particularly in areas covered by the concessionaire Manila Water.

“Manila Water has to do some explaining on this crisis. Three weeks ago, there were no advisories and we did not feel that we would lack water supply. Then one day, we wake up without water anymore? Was that right?” she said.

Poe questioned the why almost half of Metro Manila experienced water shortage when water level in Angat Dam which supplies more than 90 percent of the metropolis is still at normal level.

Read more: Senate to probe ‘water shortage’

Due to the water crisis being experienced in different parts of the country, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle has called for prayers for rain.

"We are currently facing a crisis in water. Experts reported that we are experiencing a mild El Niño. People tasked with managing our water and power resources have warned that we face a crisis in those areas,” he said in a circular letter dated March 12 and addressed to the clergy and religious communities in his archdiocese.

"Our relief will come from nature. And so we implore the Master of all creation, God, our Father, at whose command the winds and seas obey, to send us rain," added Tagle.

"Let us together storm heavens with our supplication, that God's mercy be upon us and send us the rain we need," he said. (With a report from Leslie G. Aquino)