By Madelaine Miraflor
Manila Water Company, Inc. is voluntarily waiving the fees for its customers, but Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) said it is not enough for the Ayala-led company to make up for the unprecedented water supply interruption it implemented in the past weeks.
On Tuesday, Manila Water President and Chief Executive Officer Ferdinand Dela Cruz said his company will implement a voluntary and one-time bill waiver program in March to be reflected in the April bill of its customers.
Customers of the East Zone concession – from low-income families to commercial and industrial establishments – suffered major inconveniences because of the unprecedented water shortage that began March 6 with the implementation of the scheduled water service interruption scheme to refill the 28 network reservoirs.
Manila Water faced a shortage in its water supply as La Mesa Dam reached its critical level. To be specific, Manila Water has an allocation of 1,600 million liters per day (MLD) from Angat Dam. With demand increasing to about 1750 MLD or more during the past weeks, it had no choice but to tap its reserves coming from La Mesa.
Under the waiver scheme, all of Manila Water customers will have their minimum charge waived, while customers in barangays that experienced absolutely no water service for at least seven straight or broken days within March 6 to 31 don’t have to pay the company a single centavo for the entire month of March.
The minimum charge, which represents the first 10 cubic meters (cu.m) consumed by the customers, could translate to a reduction of as much as P76 to P656 this month, depending on whether the user is a lifeline, commercial, or industrial type of customer.
The company is still validating its data and will soon come up with the list of barangays that were severely hit.
Dela Cruz said that by waiving the minimum charge for all its customers, Manila Water will lose as much as P150 million, while it is yet to compute how much money it will shed by implementing a 100 percent rebate among those who were most severely affected.
But MWSS Administrator Reynaldo Velasco noted that Manila Water’s move is “voluntary” and that it still has to suffer from whatever penalty the government will impose upon it.
“This is just self-imposed [on the part of Manila Water] but we are still looking at other penalties. Manila Water is aware that they still have to face some penalties based on concession agreement,” Velasco said.
Manila Water has 6 million customers and provides water to 23 cities and municipalities in Metro Manila and Rizal. These include Mandaluyong, Makati, Pasig, Pateros, San Juan, Taguig, Marikina, and parts of Quezon City and Manila. The towns of Angono, Baras, Binangonan, Cainta, Cardona, Jalajala, Morong, Pililia, Rodriguez, Tanay, Taytay, Teresa, San Mateo and Antipolo in the province of Rizal are also part of the East Zone.
Right now, 97 percent of the affected areas have water supply, albeit with low pressure.
“We understand the profound frustration that our customers have expressed in the past three weeks,” Dela Cruz said.
“As of March 25, our 8 to 12-hour water availability at ground floor level has reached 97 percent. From a high of 61 severely affected barangays, we are now down to 8 barangays which are dependent on interim network solutions, static tanks or water tankers. Our supply deficit is down from 150 mld to 107 mld but there are still small pockets, sitios or streets with intermittent no water situations resulting from operational adjustments and pressure management,” he added.
Rebate, cancellation of agreement
MWSS Chief Regulator Patrick Ty said Manila Water was given until next week to explain why they should not be penalized based on the concession agreement.
“They were given notice to explain. After that, we will proceed to study how much [rebate] or if there is a violation. Then we will decide a corresponding action,” Ty said.
“The set up would be is [since] we can’t impose fines, we can just impose rebate because that is part of the penalties based on their concession agreement [with MWSS]. Another option is the cancellation of the concession agreement,” he added.
Ty 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.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros welcomed the move of Manila Water.
“It is a big win for ordinary paying consumers. This is certainly a big victory for consumers. But we must not stop here. There is more that needs to be done in order to prevent this crisis from happening again,” she said.
Hontiveros also called on Manila Water to reimburse public hospitals affected by the water shortage. She said reimbursing public hospitals is the next step after waiving its consumers’ fees for March. Citing data obtained from the health department, Hontiveros said six public hospitals suffered losses in the amount of P4.116 million at the height of the water shortage.
Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate also called the waiving of the minimum water charge a good move, but customers deserve more.
Zarate batted for additional relief for consumers by doing away with the rate increase allowed by the MWSS last year. (With reports from Ellson A. Quismorio, Mario B. Casayuran, and Chito Chavez)