THE Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) will meet with Manila Water Co., Inc. on Monday to discuss measures to compensate the company’s 6.8 million east zone customers for the water shortage that started on March 6.
“We are asking Manila Water to forego bill collection for the time being… to help consumers,” MWSS Chief Regulator Patrick Lester N. Ty told reporters during the Water Philippines 2019 conference in Pasay City on Thursday.
Mr. Ty said his office wrote the Ayala-controlled water concessionaire asking for a meeting to discuss how to proceed with a payment plan. Payment suspensions could run until water delivery is back to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
On Wednesday, Manila Water said: “We will fully cooperate with the MWSS Regulatory Office as they review our performance during this incident against our service obligations particularly in providing 24/7 service.”
“I am hoping they agree to waiving fees for the entire month,” Mr. Ty said, adding that his office cannot force the company to do so.
“What I can do is a rebate,” he said.
He said a rebate, which will come on top of deferred payments, could be implemented by June or July, instead of the schedule laid out in the fifth rate-rebasing discussions. The current fourth regulatory period of the water concessionaire started in 2018 and will end in 2022.
“We will talk to them about what they can do,” he said. “We are just the regulator. We cannot impose on them that kind of condition.”
Mr. Ty said a rebate is an option is in the concession agreement. He said a rebate would not depend on March consumption, but will be computed as 25% of the cost incurred by the concessionaire to bring back 24-hour water delivery.
Mr. Ty declined to enumerate the allowed costs to be incorporated in a rebate.
He said Manila Water has 15 days after a violation to explain any service failures since public health has been affected. Otherwise the period is 30 days. He noted that due process must be followed if the MWSS is not to be brought before an arbitrator.
“I can exert moral pressure but I cannot legally compel them,” he said.
At least 90% of Metro Manila’s east zone is back to at least 12 hours’ water supply at 7 pounds per square inch (psi), or the minimal pressure to reach the ground floor of residences, he said, based on the latest reports he has received.
At another water conference, former Environment Secretary Elisea G. Gozun said the Philippines is considered under water stress, and she backed the creation of a Department of Water to address shortages and flooding concerns.
“There is not much appreciation in the legislative branch and even in the country as a whole… how important is. We only see that water is important if it is insufficient,” Ms. Gozun said during the National Water Summit held in Quezon City on Thursday.
“The United Nations considers countries with water at below 1,700 cubic meters per person as under water stress. We are water stressed already,” Ms. Gozun said, noting that growing population is a factor.
According to the United Nations website, further stages of water stress are 1,000 cubic meters per person, which is considered “water scarcity,” while under 500 cubic meters is classified as “absolute scarcity.”
Former Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said that the government should invest in rainwater harvesting, as this will significantly help the agriculture sector.
“1997, 1998, we had the worst El Niño and one of the mitigation measures would have been rainwater harvesting. Today the government has invested very little in rainwater harvesting,” Mr. Dar said at the summit.
Meanwhile, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) said that it will support the creation of the Department of Water, though it as noncommittal on a timeline.
“It is a legislative action. We will try to push for it but it is the collective wisdom of the executive and the legislative that would have to enact it,” NEDA Assistant Secretary Roderick M. Planta said in the summit.
Separately, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said Thursday that the government has drafted two proposed measures on the creation of two separate water regulatory bodies.
According to a statement from the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, two draft bills were “endorsed for approval and submission to the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC).”
These bills “would create two separate bodies involving water: one focused on economic and financial regulation; and another responsible for policy formulation and resource regulation.”
“One of the proposed agencies that will be formed will act as the apex body for the water resources sector. This agency will consolidate and reconcile water-related policy, planning, and programming mandates of the different agencies involved in water resource management. It will likewise ensure the efficient allocation of water resources across sectors,” Mr. Nograles was quoted as saying.
The second body, he said, “will be an independent and quasi-judicial body for water supply and sanitation.”
He added that this office “will ensure quality performance of water concessionaires and ensure transparency and predictability in economic regulation of water service providers.”
In addressing the water crisis in Metro Manila, the Palace official said department secretaries, agency heads and representatives at the high-level inter-agency meeting on water security at the Department of National Defense (DND) in Camp Aguinaldo convened Wednesday “agreed to submit to the President a draft executive order strengthening the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) and addressing the fragmentation of the water sector.”
Mr. Nograles’s office said among the agencies represented at the meeting chaired by the Department of National defense were the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Energy (DoE), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Health (DoH), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Science and Technology (DoST), National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRMMC), the Local Water Utilities Administration, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).
“Currently there are 30 or so agencies involved in water resource management. The agencies present at the meeting recognize that this institutional setup is problematic. For example, there are four agencies involved in resource assessment, four involved in policy, seven in water supply, four in sanitation, five in water quality management, and six in watershed management,” Mr. Nograles said.
“There is no single repository of water data, and no regularly updated water availability d ata. This is an untenable situation,” he further said.
He said among the short-term measures that will be undertaken to address the water supply shortage in Metro Manila is the activation of the deep wells designated for use during natural disasters. “There are a total of 109 of these wells in NCR, and the NWRB will work with the MWSS to identify which wells can be tapped, and to ensure that water quality in these wells is evaluated and constantly monitored.” — Victor V. Saulon, Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio and Arjay L. Balinbin