‘It’s everyone’s fault’

Published March 19, 2019, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Atty. Joey D. Lina Former Senator
Atty. Joey D. Lina
Former Senator

Water is undoubtedly a basic need. So basic indeed that a severe shortage of it can disrupt lives and cause so much inconvenience when one is unable to perform the daily personal routines or household chores that need to be done.

Thus, it’s nightmarish for many people when faucets remain dry for up to 20 hours a day as what happened in many areas, particularly in Metro Manila’s east zone and Rizal province. And there are also reports that some areas were waterless for several days, even for a week in certain households.

And what infuriates many of the six million customers of Manila Water Company, the utility firm that has jurisdiction over the waterless areas, is that the water crisis came without warning. It caught many off guard. TV news showed furious consumers who said they could have been more prepared had there been advance warning.

Indeed, many find disappointing the failure of Manila Water to sound the alarm even as early as December last year when the rains stopped and El Niño started to creep in. But the El Niño phenomenon, which has long been anticipated, should not be used as excuse for the water crisis.

Many feel the water concessionaire, as soon as it became clear a water shortage would ensue from a crucial delay in the completion of a water treatment project aimed at coping with increased demand, ought to have warned the public of a looming crisis and pushed for an aggressive water conservation campaign, although in a manner that would not cause widespread panic and prompt people to hoard water all at once.

Manila Water has explained that technical difficulties hampered the completion last December of their treatment plant in Cardona, Rizal, to provide adequate water supply by drawing up to 100 million liters a day from Laguna Lake. But there’s an obvious question: Why were there no other contingency measures to effectively address the consequences of the failure to finish the Cardona project on time?

The uproar over severe water shortage reverberated for days across varied sectors of society, rich and poor alike, including televiewers in the DZMM teleradyo program “Magpayo Nga Kayo” (Saturdays, 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.) which I co-host with ace broadcaster May Valle Ceniza.

Many called in to express disgust not only against Manila Water but also the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System for the apparent failure of government to ensure unhampered provision of a basic need of the people. Some callers also decried the non-implementation of critical programs and infrastructure projects to meet the growing demand for water.

A caller even cited the proposal of the late columnist Neal Cruz to utilize the Wawa watershed in Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), Rizal, to bring water to La Mesa Dam and augment water supply. A column of Cruz on August 20, 2010, revealed he believed there was an “illicit conspiracy between the MWSS and Manila Water regarding Wawa.”

“The truth is finally coming out in the mysterious refusal, for the last 16 years, by the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) to give the go signal to the San Lorenzo Ruiz Builders and Developers Group (SLRB) to bring water from the Wawa Dam… SLRB owns the water rights to Wawa which, under the law, cannot be awarded to somebody else. The truth is that somebody, with the connivance of the MWSS, wants to steal these rights from SLRB,” Cruz wrote then.

Public uproar over the water crisis also brought to light the issue of privatization. While some think “the  privatization of the water concessions in 1997 was a success story”  in that it “opened the door for investments in the tens of billions for more efficient distribution… better water pressure, less leakage, less non-revenue water, and cleaner water supply,” others don’t think so.

A research study led by the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies said that privatization resulted in adverse effects that include “rising price of water, leading to inequality and a class bias; excessive profit-taking beyond allowable limits; inadequate and unreliable coverage, particularly for the urban poor; poor water sanitation and wastewater treatment services; inefficient management – underspending and irregular practices; and non-involvement and/or diminished role of local government units and the local community.”

There are other concerns the water crisis brought up. Among them is stiff opposition – mainly because of fears indigenous people would be displaced from ancestral lands – to the planned New Centennial Water Source Project, an integrated dam system involving the construction of the Laiban Dam, conceived during the Marcos era, at the Kaliwa River in Rizal province, and a smaller dam downstream (Kaliwa Dam) in Quezon province.

And there’s also the issue of the non-implementation of RA 6716, the law enacted exactly 30 years ago in March of 1989 which mandated the construction of rainwater collectors in every barangay all over the country. Apart from water conservation, harvesting rainwater has been proven to be very effective in several countries to address rising demand.

But blame for the current water shortage should not be put only on Manila Water, according to MWSS chief regulator Patrick Ty who was interviewed on ANC’s Headstart. He said government is primarily to blame “because it is the responsibility of government to source all this water.”

He said left-leaning groups and Church-based groups opposed to construction of more dams are also to blame, and even consumers who don’t conserve or recycle water. “It’s everyone’s fault,” he said.

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