President Duterte was speaking at the oathtaking of new government officials in Malacañang last Thursday, when he turned anew to the problem of Metro Manila’s water services. The two water concessionaires, he said, have been collecting an “environmental fee” since 1997, for which they were supposed to build waste treatment plants to which all Metro Manila households would be connected through sewer lines.
“It’s in your bill if you care to look at it,” he told the audience. Where did that money go? he asked. It was the latest development since the President went after the concessionaires after they sued the Philippine government in a case filed in an arbitration court in Singapore for huge losses due to the government’s rejection of water rate increases from 2013 to 2017.
The matter of Manila Bay’s pollution – which the two firms were supposed to help solve by setting up waste treatment plants – became a legal issue when a group calling itself “Concerned Residents of Manila Bay” filed a complaint with the Regional Trial Court in Imus, Cavite, asking the government agencies concerned to clean up, restore, preserve, and protect the bay.
The RTC decision of 2002 was affirmed by the Court of Appeals in 2005 and by the Supreme Court in 2008. The high court ordered a number of government agencies – among them, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Department of Health (DOH), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) — to carry out the cleanup order. The court said a major source of the poilution appeared to be shanties and establishments without septic tanks discharging their wastes into the rivers flowing into the bay.
In 2009, the DENR fined the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and the two private water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water for failing to connect sewage lines in subdivisions and commercial buildings and other establishments to a sewage system. In 2011, the court affirmed the DENR decision that the concessionaires, along with the MWSS, were liable to a total of P921 million in penalty. The two firms appealed the decision.
Last October, 2019, partylist Rep. Lito Atienza, a former mayor of Manila and secretary of the DENR, said the water companies should have set up water treatment facilities to which all households and establishments in their areas should be connected. They pledged 22 years ago to set up the treatment plants, he said, but have only been sending sewer tanks to households requesting to empty their septic tanks.
Sometime ago, the two concessionaires announced projects they have already launched, but these obviously have been below government expectations.
President Duterte has now raised the matter of “environmental fees” they have been collecting all these years. They should now update their reports on these projects along with their accounting
of the fees they have collected for them.