Water officials in deep water

Published March 20, 2019, 3:31 PM

by Patrick Garcia

By Genalyn Kabiling and Argyll Geducos

President Duterte has threatened to fire Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) officials and terminate the agreements with two water conces­sionaires amid his outrage over their alleged failure to prevent the recent water supply interruption in Metro ManilaThe President met with officials of MWSS, Manila Water, and Maynilad in Malacañang Tuesday night and ordered them to submit a report on the water shortage before April 7 so he can decide on their fate, according to Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte discusses matters with the officials of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System led by its chairman, Franklin Demonteverde, at a meeting at the Malacañan Palace on March 19, 2019.  (ACE MORANDANTE/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte discusses matters with the officials of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System led by its chairman, Franklin Demonteverde, at a meeting at the Malacañan Palace on March 19, 2019.

Duterte also told the water officials that he was ready to take “swift and drastic” steps to protect the people.

“The President reiterated that he is constitutionally tasked to serve and pro­tect the citizenry, and he will not equivo­cate to take swift and drastic actions to secure the people from discomfort and shield them from suffering, regardless of the dire consequences to the players of the water industry,” Panelo said.

The closed-door meeting, in which Duterte vented his anger at the con­cerned water officials for their sup­posed failure to perform their job, lasted for 40 minutes.

“The President told them they could have simply anticipated such shortage and could have done something about it. They had to wait for him to threaten them with personally rushing to Manila from Davao to grapple with the crisis before they moved to end it.

The Chief Executive bluntly told them to ‘shape up or ship out!’” Panelo said in a statement issued early Wednesday morning.

“In a stern message delivered with­out even once looking at the officials, the obviously outraged President threat­ened to fire the MWSS officials and ter­minate the concessionaires’ contracts,” he said.

Duterte told the officials he would not listen to their explanation about the water shortage since it would be “just plain excuses.”

‘All they care is get profit’

“They simply did not do their job. ‘All they care about is get profit from the wa­ter of the people’ and to their sufferance as well,’” Panelo said.

The President said the officials knew of the problem leading to the stoppage of the flow of water but did not resolve to prevent it, according to Panelo.

“The President expressed his evi­dent displeasure by saying that he hoped that at the end of the day, the water crisis was not just a matter of common sense,” he added.

“The meeting which was more of a presidential monologue lasting for about forty minutes abruptly ended by the President ordering the officials to submit a report on the water shortage before April 7, after which he will decide whether heads will roll or whether the contracts of the concessionaires will be terminated,” he added.

Like the President, senatorial candi­dates from the “Otso Diretso” slate want to hold water officials accountable for the “unexplained” water shortage.

They slammed Manila Water, as well as the government, for the water problem.

Former Deputy Speaker Erin Taña­da said it is important to hold authorities accountable for the “unexplained” water shortage in the eastern metro, where thousands of residents were affected.

“If we’re talking about due process, then we should start here: Give the authorities a show-cause order to ex­plain the water shortage,” he said in Filipino.

Manila Water should provide credit for those who were affected by the water shortage, said former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay.

“As a gesture, Manila Water should think about providing credits as conso­lation to those that were affected,” he said in Filipino.

Marawi civic leader Samira Gutoc said consumers should be reminded of their role to demand for quality goods from the government and water suppli­ers that have turned “lax.”

“Marami tayong ina-accommodate dito sa NCR, pati mga foreign tourists. Nakakahiya. Nakakahiya na wala tay­ong tubig sa CR (We accommodate a lot of people here in the National Capital Region, including foreign tourists. It’s embarrassing that we don’t even have water in our restrooms),” she said.

Hilbay said there is a “clear fail­ure in oversight” on the part of the government.

Magdalo Representative Gary Ale­jano echoed this sentiment and said the government should develop clear strategies to ensure food and water security in the country.

Gutoc also called on provincial lo­cal government officials to prepare for possible water shortages, since this phenomenon “does not only happen in Manila.”

Many residents of Metro Manila endured water supply interruptions last week, prompting the President to direct authorities to release 150 days worth of water from Angat Dam.

The water release aims to supply the affected areas in Metro Manila and distribute sufficient water to the residents.

The government had earlier blamed the mismanagement and inefficiency of concerned water officials for the recent supply problem in Metro Manila.

Ready to comply

Following President Duterte’s threats, MWSS Administrator Reynaldo Velasco said he is prepared to resign if he could not comply with the presidential directive to resolve the water shortage in Metro Manila, while Manila Water president and CEO Ferdinand Dela Cruz said they are “taking seriously” the Chief Executive’s “clear and loud” marching orders to fix the water shortage and en­sure that it will not happen again.

Velasco pledged to craft a 50-year comprehensive roadmap to help ensure water security.

“Kakayanin natin ‘yan. If I cannot do it, I will resign immediately,” Velasco said during a Palace press briefing.

“We are not worried about the water supply until 2037 which is the end of the concession agreement but we have to go beyond that because ang utos ng Presidente, and even the Senate were asking na gumawa ng masterplan diyan, so we will do the roadmap maybe up to 50 years,” he said.

The proposed roadmap includes the construction of the Kaliwa Dam project and other programs to ensure water supply meets consumer demand, Velasco said.

Velasco said China-funded Kaliwa Dam project is a cheaper and better deal compared to the weir project pro­posed by a Japanese company.

He said the construction of the Kaliwa Dam would only cost US$248 million or P12.2 billion, compared to the Osaka-based Global Utility Develop­ment Corp. Ltd.’s proposed $410 million Kaliwa Intake Weir project.

The Kaliwa dam project in Quezon, or the New Centennial Water Supply Project, is funded by the official devel­opment assistance from China.

It is expected to provide 600 million liters per day (MLD) to Metro Manila and nearby areas.

Finance Assistant Secretary Tony Lambino said the government was able to cut cost of the Kaliwa dam project when it decided to pursue it through a Chinese loan.

“For the MWSS, we are are looking into short-term, midterm and long-term projects,” he said.

“We have to make sure that our wa­ter security program ay consistent doon sa pagtaas ng ating water demand,” he added.

For now, Velasco admitted that no one in the MWSS board has offered to resign because the President has not asked for it during the meeting in Malacañang last Tuesday.

“I think the instruction of the Presi­dent is very clear, we have to fix this, we have to recover from this, and to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

We’re taking that seriously,” Dela Cruz told reporters in an ambush interview after the House Committee on Public Accounts conducted a hearing on the water crisis.

11 barangays with no water

He noted that in terms of service re­covery, they “already have a 90 to 95 per­cent service restoration, which we now define as at least 8 to 12 hours of water at the ground floor in many areas.”

But he said they still have 11 baran­gays with no water, where “tinkering” and network solutions are being done.

“We’re tripling our efforts to make sure na yung mga barangay na to ka­gaya ng Addition Hills will not only get tankering but also static tanks and even network solutions para yung mga hard to reach or malalayong barangay… ay mabawasan na at mabigyan ng masper­manenteng solusyon,” Dela Cruz said.

He assured that they “continue to work round the clock” to fully address the water shortage situation. (With reports from Minka S. Tiangco and Charissa L. Atienza).