LUCENA CITY—A labor union leader from the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) assailed the collection of “advance tariffs” from consumers purportedly to finance the construction of the controversial Laiban Dam project in the Sierra Madre.
“We were surprised when we learned of the advance collection. This issue is only one of anomalous transactions in the MWSS,” Napoleon Quinones, president of the MWSS Labor Association, said in a phone interview on Thursday.
Quinones said the union believed that “whatever money collected should be refunded to the consumers.”
On March 17, 2011, the MWSS board, in Resolution No. 2011-024, ordered its regulatory office to issue to two water concessionaires—Manila Water Company Inc. and the Maynilad Water Services Inc.—cease and desist orders directing them to stop collecting advance tariff for the Laiban Dam and 15 other irrigation projects.
It also ordered the concessionaires to put in escrow the amount already collected.
But on April 13, in Resolution No. 2011-024A, the same board approved the deferment of the implementation of the March 17, 2011 resolution.
Ramsey Astoveza, Agta tribal chieftain in Sierra Madre in northern Quezon, also protested the collection of advance payment for the proposed Laiban Dam project.
“This is a serious insult to the indigenous people. All along, we were made to believe that Laiban dam had been sidelined then here comes this news. This is unfair to the consumers who already paid money in advance,” Astoveza said over the phone.
The tribal chieftain said they have long been protesting the construction of the Laiban dam because it would gravely affect their ancestral domain.
“We will continue our protest against Laiban and other similar dam projects in the Sierra Madre,” he said.
The Laiban dam, a joint-venture project of the San Miguel Corp. and the MWSS, was designed to divert water from two river systems in the Sierra Madre—Kaliwa and Kanan—to supply potable water to Metro Manila. The project was shelved in 2010.
P48B price tag
President Aquino had ordered the deferment of the P48-billion project due to strong protests from indigenous peoples and environmentalist groups.
After the death of Agta tribal chieftain Nap Buendicho in February, however, MWSS began reviving plans to build the dam and started conducting a series of consultation meetings with local government officials of General Nakar town in Quezon.
Buendicho has led protests and marches against the dam project warning it would wipe out their ancestral land. Studies conducted by the Prelature of Infanta and several environmentalist groups showed the dam reservoir of 28,000 hectares would displace 4,413 families from seven mountain villages.
Legally-protected rainforest areas housing endemic and endangered species would also be buried under water as part of the dam reservoir area, along with areas being claimed as ancestral lands by the Dumagats and Remontados.
Environmentalists also expressed concern that the project location, which is near the Marikina-Infanta earthquake fault, would endanger the lives of people living near the proposed dam.
Quinones reiterated their call for President Aquino to investigate alleged irregularities
under MWSS administrator Gerardo Esquivel.
Esquivel and President Aquino are 1981 graduates of the Ateneo de Manila University.
According to Quinones, Esquivel has been withholding the payment for the Angat Water Utilization and Aqueduct Improvement Project (AWUAIP) Phase II that will facilitate water conveyance from Angat Dam to the La Mesa and Balara water treatment plants.
According to the MWSS website, the project was funded by the Chinese government through the Preferential Buyer’s Credit Loan Agreement from the Export-Import Bank of China.
Quinones said Esquivel is questioning the payment of a “variation order” that amounted to P500 million.
He said as payment is delayed, interests pile up which would be passed on to consumers.
“The amount would surely be passed on,” said Quinones.