THE GOVERNMENT should pursue regulatory reform and move towards expanding public ownership to ensure universal access to water resources, a left-leaning think tank said.

“The problem is not primarily uncoordinated water agencies and incoherent water management. The main problem is that the government doesn’t protect the human right to water and is not taking the steps to assert public ownership, control and use of water to ensure universal access to this,” IBON Foundation Executive Director Jose Enrique A. Africa said in a Viber message.

On Aug. 30, the House committees on government reorganization and public works and highways approved a substitute bill seeking to create the Department of Water Resources and the Water Regulatory Commission.

Mr. Africa said the measure would make it “easier and more lucrative for corporate interests to profit from the country’s water resources.”

Further, he said that water privatization in Metro Manila “has made water expensive amid persistent supply and sanitation gaps.”

“Water privatization in the Philippines doesn’t fulfill the human right to water. The government should instead immediately have stronger regulatory controls against water profiteering and take steps towards public ownership and control which is the only way to ensure universal access and sustainable use of water resources,” he said.

Asked to comment, Patrick Lester N. Ty, chief regulator at the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) Regulatory Office, said water privatization has helped to expand water coverage in Metro Manila.

“Water privatization actually helped Metro Manila reach nearly universal access to water. From a low of 48% water coverage in Metro Manila before privatization, we were able to reach 98% today,” he said in a Viber message.

“In fact, the MWSS privatization is considered the largest successful water privatization in the world,” he added.

The MWSS is the government’s water distribution utility serving Metro Manila and nearby provinces. It has concession agreements with Manila Water Co. and Maynilad Water Services, Inc. to serve the east and west zones of Metro Manila.

Mr. Ty said that the MWSS Regulatory Office was established to ensure water profiteering does not happen.

He also said the 5th rate rebasing last year ensures that MWSS concessionaires are required to invest in infrastructure to improve water and wastewater systems in Metro Manila.

In November, the MWSS approved the rate rebasing adjustments for Manila Water Co., Inc. and Maynilad which authorized higher rates on a staggered basis from 2023 to 2027. — Sheldeen Joy Talavera