Water firms: Huge profits, bad service – solon

    Making a living. A boy fills water containers, charging P3 per container, in Del Pan, Tondo, hours ahead of the scheduled water supply interruption. PHOTO BY RHOY COBILLA
    Making a living. A boy fills water containers, charging P3 per container, in Del Pan, Tondo, hours ahead of the scheduled water supply interruption. PHOTO BY RHOY COBILLA

    WHILE Maynilad and Manila Water are failing to meet their obligations to deliver round-the-clock running water to their 14 million customers and establish sewerage systems, the two water concessionaires are not having any difficulties producing profits for their stockholders, a party-list lawmaker said yesterday.

    Based on his review of publicly available financial records of the two concessionaires, Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said Manila Water Co. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. raked in an aggregate of P138 billion in net profits from 2006 to June 2019, a 13-year period.

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

    “It has become abundantly clear (that) they’ve been 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 said.

    As announced last week, water service interruptions will start today and may last until next year if water level at Metro Manila’s major water sources will not improve over the next few months.

    Metro Manila, which has a population of 12 million, gets its water supply from the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa water system.

    Angat Dam supplies 97 percent of Metro Manila’s water needs, releasing about 4 million liters of water per day, while La Mesa Dam is supposed to serve as a reserve for Manila Water.

    Manila Water, in a statement, said its scheduled water interruption will be felt by all its 6.8 million customers and will range from 4 to 10 hours.

    Affected areas include Rizal, Makati, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Pasig, Parañaque, Pateros, Quezon City, San Juan, and Taguig, among others.

    Atienza also slammed the water firms’ warning that their rates could shoot up by as much as 780 percent, or by 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 added.

    Over the years, Atienza said the concessionaires have invoked their need to provide sewerage networks and wastewater treatment facilities to borrow cheap funding from abroad for “green” projects but “we don’t know what they did with the money.”

    The Supreme Court in August upheld a 2009 Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) order penalizing the two water suppliers and the 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 2009 order when he was the environment secretary.

    The High Court had ruled that until they fully comply with the Clean Water Act, Manila Water and Maynilad and the MWSS will have to continue to pay a P322,102 daily fine which increases by 10 percent in two years, plus legal interest of six percent per annum.

    In asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its order, the water firms had warned that rates could shoot up should they be compelled to pay the fine until they complete their sewerage projects.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, belied allegations that the water shortage problem was a mere creation of the government to justify the need for the China-funded New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam project.

    Panelo, in a radio interview, said the water supply issue is not just a “front” used by the government to make sure that the Kaliwa Dam project will proceed.

    “Definitely, hindi (front). Ang administrasyon na ito walang mga tinatawag na front o mga kasinungalingan na mga kinakalat nila (Definitely, it’s not a front. This administration does not use fronts or lies like the ones that they are spreading),” Panelo said.

    Panelo said that as far as he was aware, the water supply problem from late March until the summer months in Metro Manila and the surrounding areas had already been resolved.
    Panelo said the government is looking into the water supply problem and that officials overseeing the water services are doing their jobs.

    “Gagawan natin ng paraan para hindi maging malubha ang krisis na iyan. Kung merong problema ay may solusyon (We will do something so the crisis will not worsen. If there’s a problem, then there’s a solution),” he said.

    Last Friday, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. emphasized the urgency of finding a new source of water amid the supply rationing in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

    Among the projects being pursued by the government is the China-funded Kaliwa Dam project which is, however, being opposed by environmental, tribal and militant groups due to its alleged adverse effect on the environment and the threat to displace indigenous and tribal people in the area. – With Jocelyn Montemayor