Looming water crisis real – Malacañang

Published October 27, 2019, 12:29 PM

by Gabriela Baron & Minka Klaudia Tiangco

By Argyll Geducos and Ellson Quismorio

Malacañang has denied allegations that the looming water crisis in Metro Manila is just a front so the government can push for the China-funded New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project in Tanay, Rizal.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo (OPS / MANILA BULLETIN)
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo

Militant groups doubt that there is really another pending water crisis in Metro Manila, saying the government may have just been using it as an excuse to push for the dam project.

“Ang administrasyong ito walang mga tinatawag na front o mga kasinungalingan na mga kinakalat nila (This administration does not use fronts or spread lies like they do),” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said, citing the allegation that Duterte was snubbed in Japan as an example of a lie.

According to Panelo, water officials should do something about the water crisis.

“Gagawan natin ng paraan para hindi maging malubha ang krisis na ‘yan. Kung merong problema eh, may solusyon (We will do something so it won’t have much effect. If there’s a problem, then there’s a solution). So I think those people responsible for that will have to do their jobs,” he said.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) reported last week that Angat Dam’s water level was at 186.23 meters, a figure below the normal high level of 210 meters. It also said that Ipo Dam’s level was at 100.43 meters also below its normal high water level of 101 meters.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon on Friday warned that Metro Manila cannot escape water interruptions as long as the government is not able to find a new water source.

The Kaliwa Dam project in Tanay, Rizal, is facing opposition from environmental groups and local officials, saying it will displace indigenous peoples and will have an adverse effect on the environment.

The project, funded through China’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the Philippines, will cost $248 million or P12.2 billion to complete. It aims to address the water shortage in Metro Manila.

Big money

Meanwhile, Buhay Party-List Rep. Lito Atienza dismissed the claim made by water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water that service rates could skyrocket if they are forced to comply with the Clean Water Act.

READ MORE: Atienza maintains water concessionaires still making big money despite recent problems

Although they may have problems meeting their obligations to deliver round-the-clock running water to their 14 million customers and to establish sewerage systems, the two Metro water companies are definitely not having any difficulties producing profits for their stockholders, Atienza said on Sunday

“Based on our scrutiny of publicly available financial filings, we’ve gathered that Manila Water Co. and Maynilad Water Services, Inc., raked in an aggregate of P138 billion in net profits from 2006 to June 2019,” he said.

“Both firms also rewarded their shareholders with a combined P49 billion in cash dividends over the same period,” added Atienza, a former three-term mayor of Manila.

The veteran solon said that it has become “abundantly clear” that the two firms are making a lot of money. “This is why they have no excuse whatsoever for failing to meet their obligations, including their obligation to put up adequate sewerage networks and wastewater treatment facilities.”

Atienza disputed the threat made by the water firms that rates could shoot up by a whopping 780 percent, or by as much P26.70 per cubic meter, if they are forced to connect all their customers to a sewage collection, treatment, and disposal system, as mandated by Section 8 of the Clean Water Act.

“There’s absolutely no need for them to jack up water rates. They’ve clearly been making a lot of money over the years, and some of those profits came from the 20 percent environmental charge and 30 percent sewer charge they’ve been collecting from customers,” Atienza said.

“They should have fully invested the revenue from these charges to build sewerage networks and wastewater treatment facilities, but they clearly chose to do something else with the money,” he noted.

“In fact, over the years, they’ve invoked their need to provide sewerage networks and wastewater treatment facilities to borrow cheap funding from abroad for ‘green’ projects. We don’t know what they did with the money.”

The Supreme Court (SC) in August upheld a 2009 Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) order penalizing the two water suppliers and regulatory body Metropolitan Waterworks Sewerage System (MWSS) with P1.84 billion in combined fines for violating Section 8 of the Clean Water Act. Atienza himself issued the order when he was DENR head.

Until they fully comply with this law, Manila Water, Maynilad, and the MWSS will have to continue to pay a P322,102-daily fine that will escalate by 10 percent in two years, plus legal interest of 6 percent per annum, the High Court said.

In asking the SC to reconsider its order, the water firms warned that water rates could hit the roof, should they be compelled to pay the fine until they complete their sewerage projects.