Consumers welcome MWSS decision to penalize Manila Water
Consumers in Metro Manila and Rizal province struck by water shortages in March welcomed regulators’ decision to penalize Manila Water Co. Inc. but worried the cost would be passed onto them, a sign of continued public mistrust and animosity toward the concessionaire.
The regulatory agency announced on Wednesday that it had slapped Manila Water with P1.13 billion in penalties consisting of a P534-million fine for the prolonged interruptions and P600 million for the development of a new water source.
Manila Water is barred from recovering the P600 million from customers through rate increases, said the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).
Consumers from the hardest-hit areas were skeptical that Manila Water would foot the bill without finding a way for the public to shoulder part of the cost in the form of rate increases or “hidden adjustments.”
“I think it is fair,” Nico Valenzuela, of Barangay Poblacion, Mandaluyong City, said of the penalty. “The only concern I have there is how Manila Water is going to pay for it as well as how they are going to recover that penalty. Most likely it’ll be passed onto consumers.”
Valenzuela said it would be unfair for consumers to shoulder the fine.
Fine not big enough
Iris Nolasco-Lising, of Barangay Teachers Village East, Quezon City, was even more scathing.
“Whatever penalties Manila Water will get, it will never be high enough compared to the troubles, inconveniences and additional stress they have caused everyone they affected,” she said.
At the height of the crisis, Lising said she went four consecutive days without a single drop of water.
She had to travel outside the city just to wash clothes and couldn’t stock up on water because the company had failed to stick to its water availability schedules.
Cheche Cinco, of Barangka Ibaba, Mandaluyong City, greeted news of the penalty with a similar sense of resignation.
While the fine was warranted because Manila Water “really bungled their jobs,” she said corruption would render it “of no significance to the people.”
Conduct public hearing
In a statement, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said that under MWSS’ contract with Manila Water, its Regulatory Office (RO) had the power to determine the details of how the fine would be spent.
“A proper public hearing should be conducted so that the RO will know how consumers are affected and what rebate should be given them,” the group said.
The penalty announced by the MWSS was on top of a roughly P500 million self-imposed bill waiver program that Manila Water said would be implemented in the next few months.
Under the waiver program, some customers will not be paying the minimum charge that covers the first 10 cubic meters of water consumed in March.
Those who had no water at all for 24 hours for at least seven days will see zero charges in their April bill.
But even this was not enough to appease exasperated consumers.
Valenzuela, for example, lamented that only one month’s bill would be waived even though he was still being hounded by continuous shortages.
Chito Peña, a resident of Barangay Industrial Valley, Marikina City, said the shortages he was experiencing now were even worse than in March.
Cinco said she, too, was still struggling with shortages, which seemed to undercut Manila Water’s rosy outlook on recovery efforts.
Until today, the company is implementing rotational supply interruptions that last up to 20 hours.
Manila Water president Ferdinand dela Cruz, however, said 57 percent of the customer base was already enjoying round-the-clock supply at at least 7 pounds per square inch of pressure.
Bayan, which filed a petition on behalf of consumers in the MWSS last month, said it would formally ask the MWSS board to publicize how it computed the penalty.
Its secretary general, Renato Reyes, assailed the lack of public participation and transparency in the determination of the fine.
“Our concern is, once the fine has been paid, will it be given back to the customers?” he told the Inquirer on Thursday.
The group, Reyes said, would keep pressuring the MWSS to suspend a water rate increase it had earlier approved for Manila Water.
He pointed to Section 10.4 of the Manila Water contract, which says penalties for service disruptions longer than 60 days must be 25 percent of the total cost of restoring the service.
“We would want to know if the P534 million corresponds to that amount,” Reyes said. “We also ask that the penalty be rebated to affected consumers through lower rates and bigger discounts.” —WITH A REPORT FROM RONNEL W. DOMINGO
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