By Victor V. Saulon
AYALA-LED Manila Water Co., Inc. will waive the water bill of its customers who were severely affected by the water shortage in March, while waiving the minimum charge of the rest of its customers for the month, in a move that its top official expects to cost at least P150 million.
“We are announcing a voluntary and one-time bill waiver scheme in March to be reflected in the April bill of customers,” said Ferdinand M. Dela Cruz, Manila Water president and chief executive officer, in a press conference at the utility’s head office in Quezon City on Tuesday.
He described the “most severely affected” or hardest hit customers as those without water for at least seven days — whether continuous or intermittent — from March 6 to 31. These customers will not be charged for their water consumption this month.
He said the minimum charge is for 10 cubic meters (cu.m.) covering water, environmental and sewer charges. The charge will be waived for the rest of the company’s customers in Metro Manila’s east concession zone. Consumption beyond 10 cu.m. will be billed.
“We understand the profound frustration that our customers have expressed in the past three weeks,” Mr. Dela Cruz said, as he again apologized to customers for the supply shortage that is beyond a typical service interruption.
He said the decision on the bill waiver was reached with inputs from the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) corporate and regulatory offices.
Mr. Dela Cruz said the minimum charge ranges from P75.84 per month for Manila Water’s lifeline or low-consuming customers and up to P656.52 for industrial customers. The minimum charge for households is P133.56 a month and for commercial customers, P606.84 a month.
The east concession zone has been experiencing a water supply deficit since March 6, although the shortfall has been brought down to 107 million liters per day (MLD) from 150 MLD at the height of the shortage.
The deficiency came about as water demand reached 1,750 MLD against a 1,600 MLD supply. A new water treatment plant failed to meet its target launch in late 2018 due to technical issues.
Mr. Dela Cruz said there are still “pockets, sitios or streets with intermittent no water situations resulting from operational adjustments and pressure management.”
He said that, as of March 25, the concessionaire’s eight- to 12-hour water availability that reaches the ground level of homes has reached 97%, or from a high of 61 severely affected barangays down to eight barangays.
“We continue to focus on our service recovery efforts,” Mr. Dela Cruz said.
By the end of the month, he expects the availability level to reach 99%, even as he said that he did not want to give “false expectations and false hopes and create more confusion.”
“We will continue to post the specific mechanics. By end of today we will finalize that. We will have to get the actual consumption by the end of March,” he said.
Mr. Dela Cruz said estimated losses from the scheme could reach around P150 million if confined to the waiver of the minimum charge. Loss estimate on the waived bill based on the actual consumption will be finalized by the end of the month.
“Hindi po siya maliit na amount dahil malaki rin ‘yung coverage nu’ng area, typically ito po ‘yung matataas na lugar, (It’s not a small amount because the coverage area is big, typically customers in elevated places),” he said.
MWSS Administrator Reynaldo V. Velasco, who jointly presided over the press conference with Manila Water, said the bill waiver program is applicable to the “extraordinary” situation at hand.
“We cannot ask for more because that is voluntary,” Mr. Velasco said, adding that there are penalties that can be imposed by the MWSS regulatory office apart from the waiver adopted by Manila Water.
“That one that is in the concession agreement is in the hands of the regulatory office.”
Sought for comment, Laban Konsyumer, Inc. (LKI) President Victorio Mario A. Dimagiba said the concessionaire’s move is “laudable” but would not satisfy all who were inconvenienced, including businesses that stopped operating because of the water shortage. “LKI appreciates that the apology is now accompanied by reparation or compensation by Manila Water. It could have been better if their waiver scheme is good till 24/7 service is restored,” he said.
Manila Water provides water and used water services to Mandaluyong, Pasig, San Juan, Marikina, Pateros, Taguig, Makati, southeastern part of Quezon City, as well as San Andres and Sta. Ana in Manila. It also serves towns of Rizal province, including San Mateo, Rodriguez, Antipolo, Cainta, Taytay, Angono, Binangonan, Baras and Jalajala.
Manila Water shares ended flat at P24.60 apiece on Tuesday.