By Victor V. Saulon

FORMER government officials have weighed in on issues relating to the Kaliwa dam project that has left the administration and the current leadership of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage system (MWSS) parrying criticism from environmentalists and lawmakers.

Rogelio L. Singson, who was secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways under the Aquino government, said the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project was to be awarded to San Miguel Corp. (SMC).

“I think there was a desire to award. The selection was done. If I’m not mistaken it was supposed to have been given to San Miguel and Korea Water,” he said in an interview last week.

Mr. Singson, who is Meralco PowerGen Corp. president and chief executive officer, was referring to SMC Global Power Holdings Corp. and Korea Water Resources Corp., the joint venture partners in Angat Hydropower Corp. that was handling the Angat dam and dykes strengthening plan.

The project involves the fortification of the multi-purpose hydro facility, which supplies an estimated 96-97% of Metro Manila’s raw water requirement. Run by the SMC unit, the facility generates around 246 megawatts of electricity for the Luzon grid.

“But I don’t know whether it was finally awarded or not, but alam ko umabot na sa ganun (I know it had reached that point). Unfortunately it’s under a PPP (public-private partnership) program,” he said.

The water shortage in the east zone of Metro Manila has raised concerns about the pace of developing new water sources. Kaliwa dam is supposed to be the medium-term answer but issues about its funding and environmental impact are expected to slow down its progress.

Mr. Singson said funding for the project was not lacking from domestic sources, including the companies that submitted documents signifying their interest to develop the project, which the Duterte administration awarded to a Chinese company through an official development assistance (ODA) scheme.

“Yes, of course,” he said when asked whether the domestic companies that had signified interest in the dam project is capable of funding it. “Because they will generate both potable water and possible hydro [power].”

However, Mr. Singson said Kaliwa dam will still not be finished by now even if it were awarded to a local company.

Baka ngayon hindi pa rin tapos (Maybe it still wouldn’t be finished today). It will take three to four years, but let’s admit it there are challenges there because of claims, because once you create a dam, siyempre may ilulubog kang communities diyan (you will submerge communities in water). Social cost is a challenge,” he said.

However, he said the current administration has the prerogative to choose a financing scheme for the project, including through ODA. The dam was supposed to be implemented through a PPP scheme during the Aquino administration.

“The propensity of the current administration not to go to a PPP but ODA, that’s a policy decision,” he said.

“We need a second source, period. How they [will] do it, I don’t know,” he added.

Separately, MWSS said in a statement on Sunday that its top official visited former President Fidel V. Ramos, who was the country’s chief executive when the treatment and distribution of water in Metro Manila was privatized and divided between two concessionaires.

“Always be two steps ahead and strategic in running the water agency. I am confident that you can do the job better like a professional soldier who has won many battles in the field,” MWSS quoted Mr. Ramos as saying.

In response, MWSS Administrator Reynaldo V. Velasco said: “I will never fail you Sir and President [Rodrigo R.] Duterte.”

Mr. Ramos was said to have pointed out that Metro Manila’s water supply system was in much worse state in the 1990s compared to what it is today.

Mr. Velasco said the MWSS is in catch-up mode “due to failures of past leadership to develop new water sources.”

He also discussed with Mr. Ramos the short-term, medium-term and long-term water sources projects as well as the progress on the 600 million liters per day (MLD) P12.2 billion Kaliwa Dam funded by Chinese ODA.

The former president was also briefed on the 500-MLD Wawa dam proposed by businessmen Enrique K. Razon and Oscar I. Violago in partnership with Manila Water Co., Inc., the 1,850 MLD “ABC Projects” as well as 350 MLD Laguna Bay projects by Maynilad Water Services, Inc. and Manila Water.

Constructed in 1967, Angat Dam supplies Metro Manila with 4,000 MLD.