Last month, residents of Metro Manila suffered another round of water rationing as water levels dipped in the city’s principal water source, the Angat Dam.
As if on cue, leftist groups staged a protests and called for the re-nationalization of water services citing incompetence by the two water and wastewater service providers, Maynilad and the Manila Water Co. (MWC). They demanded that the concessions of the two companies be revoked and water distribution functions be ceded back to the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).
Before the hate campaign of these leftist groups gains momentum, let me to put perspective on how life was like when MWSS managed our water systems.
The year was 1991 and I had just started my business. I built a factory in Mandaluyong and I still recall how water was only available for one hour, every 12 hours. We had to hoard water in drums and ration it throughout the day. Homes and factories in our neighborhood dug deep wells to ensure a steady supply, the depth of which got deeper every year as the water table slowly receded.
Dry taps left us with no recourse but to purchase water from vendors at the rate of P30 to P62 per cubic meter (a small drum). Not only was this an added overhead cost for our business, it also caused inconvenience and great stress for all. Maintaining cleanliness (essential in a food manufacturing facility) was a challenge given strict water rationing.
Back then, the MWSS was so inept that it only distributed water to 69% of the metropolis. It was saddled with more than a billion dollars in debt and operated with extreme inefficiency due to graft. The MWSS was in such a miserable state that President Fidel Ramos had to ask Congress for emergency powers to privatize it.
In 1997, the MWSS was successfully privatized with Maynilad winning the concession for the western zone of Metro Manila while MWC won the concession for the east. Both firms absorbed the debts of MWSS and collectively invested close to a P100 billion to provide water and sewerage connections. Today, 96% of Metro Manila is interconnected via underground pipes.
These days, water flows freely in our taps albeit with occasional interruptions. It is worlds away from the conditions we suffered through in the 1990s. It only proves that the private sector is more competent in delivering services than the government is. This is true for water as it is for power distribution and even in highway management.
This is why we should reject the call for the re-nationalization of water services. To go down that road is like eating the food we already vomited.
As mentioned earlier, the water rationing last month was due to the low water levels at the Angat dam. Bear in mind that the management of our dams and securing new water sources are the responsibilities of government, not the concessionaires. The latter’s role is merely to distribute water and manage sewerage systems throughout the city. To blame Maynilad and MWC for the lack of water supply is to bark up the wrong tree.
If there is anyone culpable for the water shortage, it is the governments of Marcos and Noynoy Aquino and all those in between. MWSS chief regulator Patrick Ty admitted that the government was partly to blame for this year’s water shortage due to its failure to do what had been on the drawing board 50 years ago — which is to build an alternative water source for Metro Manila’s ever-growing population.
Plans to carry out the New Centennial Water Source project, which involves the construction of the Kaliwa Dam in Quezon and the Laiban Dam in Rizal, had been discussed since the Marcos era. But the twin projects had been put off again and again amid opposition by, and accommodations for, indigenous folk, informal settlers, the church, and leftist groups.
Several proposals to build an alternative water source were proposed during the Noynoy Aquino administration but these were rejected due to being “redundant.” without this lack of foresight by the Aquino administration we should have averted the shortages we face today.
The good news is that construction of the P12.2-billion peso Kaliwa Dam was given the green light by the Duterte administration. Construction should commence soon as the project had already secured its environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) last month. When completed, the Kaliwa Dam will ensure that Metro Manila has an ample supply of water, even with low levels of rainfall, for decades to come.
But again, leftist activists and leftists in congress are standing in the way of Kaliwa Dam’s construction. They claim that the project proponents failed to secure free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from the Dumagat and Remontado residents as required by Republic Act No. 8173 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. They also claim that the dam will contribute to global warning.
I cannot understand the thought process of these leftists. On one hand, they complain about the water shortage and demand long-term solutions. One the other hand, when a viable solution is presented, they demand that it by trashed. With one demand cancelling the other out, government should just proceed with the project as it serves the greater interest of the greater majority.
As for Maynilad and MWC, they are on track towards achieving 100% connection of both water supply and sewerage systems by 2037. Maynilad has set aside P200 billion to build 26 new sewer treatment plants and install 425 kilometers of new sewer lines. As for MWC, they are spending P115 billion from hereon.
Building the Kaliwa Dam will assure us that the dark age of the 1990s water crisis never happens again. We owe it to the next generation of Manileños to build it.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.