By Genalyn Kabiling, Madelaine Miraflor, Ben Rosario, and Charissa Atienza
There was never really a water crisis in Metro Manila, Malacañang said Monday as it blamed the “mismanagement” of Manila Water and Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) that led to the supply interruptions in some parts of the metropolis last week.
“Iyong problema natin sa water crisis, eh makikita n’yo naman, di ba nagpalabas si Pangulo ng direktiba na gawan ninyo ng paraan iyan; tapos sinasabi nung MWSS administrator ay hindi raw doable and yet look at them, it’s now 90 percent [On our problem about the water crisis, you’ve noticed the President issued an order to resolve the matter. Then the MWSS administrator claimed it was not doable and yet look at them, it’s now 90 percent],” Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a television interview.
“It means there was really no crisis. There was only mismanagement,” he added.
In a later Palace press briefing, Panelo acknowledged that there would have been no supply interruptions if the MWSS and Manila Water had been efficient in water resource management.
“We have almost 90 percent. in other words, it can be done. That’s what we said it looks like there was really no shortage,” he said.
“It’s pure inefficiency, mismanagement on the part of Manila Water and also I’ve been watching the (House) hearing, it appears now that even the chief regulator, the regulator of the two water concessionaires is guilty of mismanagement,” he added.
He said they expect water supply in Metro Manila to be fully restored soon.
Rebate for East Zone customers?
In the wake of the water shortage, the MWSS is now studying the possibility of a rebate in the water rates of East Zone concessionaire Manila Water’s six million customers who experienced low to no-water supply disruptions in the past few weeks.
MWSS Chief Regulator Patrick Ty said the MWSS-Regulatory Office (MWSS-RO) will discuss “some time in April” whether Manila Water customers can avail themselves of refund after having to go through days of low to no-water supply for several days.
At the hearing jointly conducted by the House Committee on Metro Manila Development, chaired by Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo and the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development, chaired by Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez, congressmen took turns in grilling Manila Water and MWSS officials and asked them to resign their posts for what they described as “grave incompetence and negligence” over the “catastrophic” water shortage that affected some parts of Metro Manila and neighboring Rizal province.
“MWSS-RO will be studying it [a possible rebate]. We are looking into a mechanism how to make it earlier,” Ty said.
Ty had earlier said that whatever effect the shortage will have on the rates of Manila Water should be decided upon on the fifth rate rebasing period.
Done every five years, rate rebasing is a review of the water utilities’ past performance and projection of their future cash flows. Its purpose is to set the water rates at a level that would allow both Maynilad and Manila Water to recover their expenditures and earn a rate of return.
But there is now pressure coming from the lawmakers and affected households for Manila Water to implement a refund during the hours and the days that they didn’t have water supply.
“We want to focus on water service recovery first then we will discuss the possibility of a rebate,” Ty further said.
Water officials urged to resign
In a press statement, Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza demanded the resignation of retired police Gen. Reynaldo Velasco, administrator of the state-owned MWSS.
Atienza also asked Manila Water CEO Ferdinand de la Cruz to give up his post due to the water shortage that saw thousands of Metro Manila folk queue for water as a result of abruptly announced service interruptions.
He said the two officials should resign for their “failure to deliver water.”
“They should stop citing statistics and technical requirements for their disastrous non-performance. Obviously you have failed!” the irate opposition leader stated.
He said that while faucets ran dry, the two officials did not take any action t9o prevent the occurrence of the crisis.
Atienza, who aired his call during the House hearing, also reiterated his earlier warning that the Philippines should never experience water shortage if only we manage our water supply well.
The installation of sewerage and water treatment plants is actually a necessary component in assuring a continuous cycle of useable and even drinkable water for the people, said the former Manila mayor.
“We have at least 144 billion cubic meters of freshwater supply not being utilized wisely every year. Of this, only an estimated 24-25 billion cubic meters are being consumed, and the rest goes to waste,” he pointed out.
“We have more than enough water if only the water managers and the two concessionaires are performing their duties. Recycling of water could be resorted to whenever there is a crisis,” Atienza stressed.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate agreed with Atienza that the concerned officials should resign amid the admission of Dela Cruz admitted that consumers will still have to pay the minimum rate fee despite the service interruptions and absence of a 24/7 water service.
Zarate said Manila Water should pay a refund to their affected customers. “Are you willing to refund the consumers? Malinaw na talo sila dito. Walang tumutulong tubig pero magbabayad pa sila ng minimum amount,” he said, as he called on his colleagues to review the policy of privatizing water.
“More than 20 years after we privatized this basic service, here we are facing this catastrophic problem. We have to review this policy of privatization…” he said.
Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice, and Manila Reps. Rosenda Ann Ocampo and Manuel Luis Lopez also scored Manila Water and MWSS officials for their supposed incompetence.
Erice said the water service interruption in the Manila Water concession area is not really about water shortage but “mere incompetence” of the service provider.
“They waited for the March 6 water service interruption before they acted on it and ask for help from Maynilad which obviously have something to spare,” he said.
He said “Manila Water should be penalized or at the very least should voluntarily give a discount to all its consumers in their March billings.”
‘We’ll face penalties’
Reacting to the congressmen’s call, Dela Cruz said they are “willing” to face the penalties. He even apologized over the weeklong water shortage.
“I am holding myself fully accountable for the sudden drop in our service levels to your constituents whom we have consistently served over the past 21 years with 24/7 water availability and sufficient water pressure. March 6, 2019 is a date I will not forget as president of Manila Water,” he told during the hearing.
He said Manila Water vowed to further increase water availability for eight to 12 hours at ground level to 99 percent of their service coverage by end of March and provide more sustainable relief to no water areas beyond tinkering by developing localized network solutions to bring water to high or hard to reach areas.