Waiver of March charge could cost Manila Water nearly P500 million

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By Victor V. Saulon

AYALA-LED Manila Water Company, Inc. expects the cost of its move to voluntarily waive the minimum charge of its entire client base for March plus the waiver of a full month’s bill of its most severely affected customers to hover below P500 million, its top official said on Monday.

Monday also saw 14 business and industry groups release a joint statement pressing the government to “take immediate action” to improve water supply.

“From the P150 [million], it will definitely add a few more hundreds of millions in my estimate,” Ferdinand M. Dela Cruz, Manila Water president and chief executive officer, said in a press briefing in Makati City after the company’s annual stockholders meeting on Monday.

Asked whether the cost would reach P500 million, Mr. Dela Cruz said: “It will probably hover around that area, but probably just below that number, [based on] my estimate. I just don’t want to give a specific number that will be quoted because the billings are not done.”

Mr. Dela Cruz announced the waiver scheme on March 26 to compensate customers after a water shortage hit customers.

He had said that if the computation were confined to the waiver of the minimum charge alone, the cost could reach P150 million.

“The April billings are not over yet,” Mr. Dela Cruz said, adding that the computation is on a per-customer basis and that the company would disclose “round figures” by May.

He previously said that 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 domestic customers is P133.56 a month and for commercial customers, P606.84 a month.

He said the minimum charge represents 10 cubic meters (cu.m.) covering water, environmental and sewer charges. Consumption beyond 10 cu.m. will be billed. He described the hardest hit customers as those without water for at least seven days whether continuous or intermittently from March 6 to 31. These customers were not be charged for their water consumption in March.

The east zone concessionaire has been experiencing a water supply deficit since March 6, although it has now brought down the shortfall to 107 million liters per day (MLD) from 150 MLD at the height of the shortage.

The deficient supply came about as water demand reached 1,750 MLD while supply remained at 1,600 MLD. A new water treatment plant failed to meet its target launch in late 2018 due to technical issues.

Earlier on Monday, Mr. Dela Cruz told stockholders during the company’s annual meeting that Manila Water has measures to plug the water deficiency.

“Cardona [water treatment] plant is now 50 MLD as committed, so it’s now running for phase one. We expect phase two at around August for another 50 [MLD]. We are now running about 32 MLD of deep wells and then we expect that in the next few weeks of April and through May the cross-border flows committed by the other concessionaire of about 50 [MLD] will add to that,” he said.

“And then we will continue with our push for deep well, so that we will close the 150 [MLD], which will bring us to the regulatory standard of 7 psi (per square inch), 24/7 by the end of May,” he added.

During the meeting, Manila Water Chairman Fernando Zobel de Ayala said that as of April 20, “we have reached up to 99.83% availability. Customers have at least 8 hours of supply per day, of these customers 83% had at least 16 hours of supply, and 56% had 24/7 supply.”

Mr. Dela Cruz said the company has yet to factor in the cost of the one-time penalty to be imposed by Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System.

On Monday, shares in Manila Water fell 1.25% to P23.65 per share.

Also on Monday, 14 business and industry groups released a joint statement pressing “the Executive and Congress to prioritize water security and take immediate action” to improve water supply in Metro Manila.

They called for speeding up development of new raw water sources, “including tapping the full potential of Laguna lake”; promoting water conservation and efficiency partly through new technologies; developing a water security master plan “for Metro Manila and the entire country”; strengthen the National Water Resources Board through an executive order; as well as rehabilitating wetlands, bodies of water and supporting ecosystems.

Issuing the statement were Alyansa Agrikultura; American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines; Australia New Zealand Chamber of Commerce; Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines; European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines; Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, Inc.; Korean Chamber of Commerce Philippines; Makati Business Club; Management Association of the Philippines; Philippine Association of Agriculturists, Inc.; Philippine Association of Multinational Companies Regional Headquarters, Inc.; Philippine Association of Water Districts; Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. — with Janina C. Lim