Atienza: Troubled waters


MANILA’S Dirty Water. Last week, the Supreme Court imposed P1.8 billion in fines against the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), and its concessionaires the Manila Water Company Inc. (a.k.a. Manila Water) and the Maynilad Water Services, Inc. (aka Maynilad) for failing to comply with Section 8 of RA 9275, an Act Providing for Comprehensive Water Quality Management and for Other Purposes (aka the Clean Water Act).

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court agreed with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that for the past 10 years, MWSS, Manila Water and Maynilad have been violating the law–-by failing to provide sufficient sewerage treatment facilities for its coverage areas, contributing to the degradation of the Pasig River and Manila Bay.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu expressed gratitude that this landmark decision augured well for the “Battle for Manila Bay” (and the cleaning thereof) and for other environmental rehabilitation programs of the government.

Yet what many citizens have missed in this entire hullabaloo is that throughout all these years, the Manila water consumers have been regularly paying an “Environmental Charge” and a “Sewerage Charge,” presumably to pay for a sewerage system and a sewerage treatment facility that never came to be! So where did all that money go?

A number of highly respected corporations in the Philippines are investors in both Manila Water and Maynilad. What were they thinking? While they may not be directly involved in the day to day running of Manila Water and Maynilad, surely they must still have a measure of oversight responsibility to ensure environmental compliance. Not because they are afraid to get caught and fined, but because protecting the environment may spell the difference between life and death for future generations.

Obviously, the decision to fine MWSS, Manila Water and Maynilad is a triumph, albeit long overdue, for all concerned citizens who call for the dredging of our polluted rivers and who truly understand the repercussions of having e-coli infected water in our waterways. It also serves as a giant wake-up call for all big firms and private corporations to comply with environmental laws.

On the other hand, we hope that this is also a wake-up call for DENR to consider their greater responsibility to see that all environmental laws are implemented. Otherwise, why do we still see our mangroves being uprooted, our so-called forest reserves being slashed to make way for squatter shanties and certain protected areas being illegally reclaimed to make way for unauthorized subdivisions? Where is DENR in all this?

Cebu’s Water Shortage. In Cebu City, the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) remains woefully inadequate in meeting the city’s total water demand, which is running at over 230 million liters a day. Without concessionaires investing in distribution systems to bring water to the city, MCWD reportedly meets less than 50 percent of Cebu City’s total water demand.

Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, on the other hand, revealed that there are still some households in the province that do not have access to safe, clean water. The province is considering expanding its existing partnership with a private consortium to meet demand through the installation of Level III access bulk water system and supply in government facilities. The discussion will also cover the possibility of including the distribution of water to MCWD, a definite bonus to water-starved Cebu City.

This is a welcome initiative on the part of the province, and hopefully, something that MCWD will seriously consider. With high-rise residential condominiums and offices quickly taking over the city’s landscape, demand for water will skyrocket in the next few years. MCWD cannot ignore this inevitability.

But a word of caution to the kind governor and to all who tread our troubled waters: Ensure that water districts, distribution concessionaires, investors and government agencies alike are compliant with all sections of the Philippines’ Clean Water Act.

We can do no less.


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