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Duterte asked to wrest control of water utilities from private sector

/ 03:16 PM June 24, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares has warned President Rodrigo Duterte that the worst possible water crisis in Philippine history would be attached to his name if the government kept essential services in the hands of the private sector.

According to Colmenares, who led other Bayan Muna members on Monday in protesting recent water interruptions in Metro Manila, there is no choice but for the government to take back control of water supply and distribution.

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Colmenares said President Rodrigo Duterte should realize that “it’s time to abandon the privatization policy and for Maynilad and Manila Water to be returned to the government.”

“Otherwise, he will be the President to preside over the worst water crisis in history if he does not act soon,” said Colmenares, a lawyer.

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He said the government could do a better job in distributing water than the two concessionaires.

“They always say that if the government handles it, it would be inefficient and slow,” Colmenares said. “So the solution would be to make it efficient. If you can govern from Aparri to Jolo, how can you not govern one company?”

He said the argument that the private sector was better at running utilities than the government was “empty.”

He added that government officials were in favor of privatizing utilities because they earn from “sweetheart deals.”

Water services in Metro Manila were previously being handled by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) until a shortage in the early 1990s prompted then President Fidel Ramos to turn to the private sector for water distribution.

In 1997, water services in Metro Manila were divided into two sectors with Manila Water getting the east concession while Maynilad getting the west.

Colmenares, however, cited as a bad example of privatization the case of Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) when compared with the operations of Light Rail Transit (LRT) 1 and 2 when these were still in government hands.

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MRT, Colmenares said, became more inefficient than the government-run rail systems. “So let’s give them back to the government so there would be checks and balances,” he added.

Giving utilities back to the government, he said, would restore accountability.

Under the privatized regimen, the Commission on Audit could not even look at the accounting books of the concessionaires to determine where revenue goes.

Just last March, several Manila Water customers were left without water for several days, with other cases lasting for seven or more days.

This has forced Manila Water to waive its minimum charge for the first 10 cubic meters and refrain from charging “severely-affected areas”.

The MWSS also slapped Manila Water with a P1.13 billion fine, P534 million of which will be given as rebates to customers.

Colmenares also led a rally at the gates of Maynilad and Manila Water to demand they be made to pay higher fines for the most recent water service interruptions that are being blamed on declining water level at the Angat Dam reservoir.

As of 6 a.m. on June 24, the level of water in the reservoir was 159.09 meters above sea level, (masl) well under the operating level of 180 masl and a few centimeters below the critical level of 160 masl.

Colmenares said the MWSS should impose new fines on the concessionaires.

He added that the two concessionaires violated their contracts with the MWSS which listed conditions like 24-hour availability of water. (Editor: Tony Bergonia)

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TAGS: Angat Dam, Bayan Muna, Colmenares, Manila Water, Maynilad, MWSS, privatization, Utilities, water, water shortage
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