‘Moderate your greed’

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    THE details provided recently to the media and to the House of Representatives by Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, a former mayor of Manila and secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, about the enormous profits being raked in by the two water concessionaires in Luzon for 13 years are awesome in a sad sort of way.

    Amid the current water shortage in the National Capital Region, forcing Maynila and Manila Water to ration the precious commodity and plead to consumers to conserve water, Atienza announced that between them, the two firms earned P138 billion in the past several years.

    Atienza said, “They may be having problems meeting their twin obligations to deliver round-the-clock running water to their 14 million customers and establish sewerage systems, but Metro Manila’s two water concessionaires are definitely not having any difficulties producing profits for their stockholders.”

    The party-list representative said based on their scrutiny of publicly available financial filings, they gathered that Manila Water and Maynila Water Services amassed an aggregate of P138 billion in net profits from 2006 to June 2019. He added that both firms also rewarded their shareholders a combined P49 billion in cash dividends over the same period.

    This excessively rewarding business occurred while the two firms were remiss in providing a sewage collection, water treatment and disposal system as mandated by Section 8 of the Clean Water Act. A big chunk of their profits came from the 20 percent environmental charge and the 30 percent sewer charge that were collected from consumers who never received such service.

    In August, the Supreme Court upheld a 2009 DENR order penalizing the two water suppliers and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) with P1.84 billion in combined fines for violations of the law. Atienza himself issued that order when he was DENR secretary.

    Even the harsh Supreme Court order has failed to goad the two firms to comply with the law. The High Tribunal said Manila Water, Maynila and the MWSS will have to continue to pay a P322,102 daily fine that escalates by 10 percent in two years, plus legal interest of 6 percent per annum.

    It is a weakness in our judicial system that individual and corporate violators are given the opportunity to exhaust all legal remedies even if caught “in flagrante delicto,” and they have the wherewithal to pursue all options precisely because they have lined their pockets.

    Not too long ago, a top government official advised a group of well-connected contract proponents to “moderate your greed.” It is worthwhile to heed this call, this time seriously.

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