Usec Benny wants compliance, Atienza wants refunds

August 08, 2019

CONGRATULATIONS are in order for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for having scored a victory in its legal battle with the Maynilad Water Services Inc., Manila Water Co. Inc. and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

The DENR’s position was sustained when the Supreme Court unanimously issued a decision upholding a 2009 order penalizing said water companies with a hefty fine for violation of Sec 8 of the Philippine Clean Water Act.

In its 14-0 decision, the SC said  Maynilad shall be jointly  and severally liable with the MWSS for a total amount of P921,464,184 covering the period 05/07/09 to date of promulgation;. Manila Water Co. Inc shall be jointly and severally liable with MWSS for the same amount and period and shall pay the fine within 15 days from receipt of the decision. From receipt of the decision until petitioners have fully paid the amount stated in 1 and 2, petitioners shall be fined the initial amount of P322,102 per day subject to further 10 percent increase every two years as provided under Sec. 28 of the Philppine  Clean Water Act, until full compliance with Sec 8 of the same law.  There is also a legal interest of six percent per annum until fully satisfied.

DENR undersecretary Benny Antiporda says he and those from the DENR are thankful for the unanimous decision in their favor but they are not happy or satisfied since what they want from the water companies is compliance and not for them to simply shell out fines or penalties.

Indeed, the SC decision is very timely, as the Duterte government is hell-bent on cleaning up Manila Bay.

Antiporda said what they actually want is nothing but strict and full compliance with the Clean Water Act, citing the need to save the planet and the environment for us and the  next generation to enjoy.

Too, Antiporda laments that based on news reports, the said water companies are bent on still fighting out the issue in court.

If there is anyone who is truly happy with the SC decision, it is Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, who hailed the punishment as the ‘best deterrent to violators of environmental protection laws.’

As DENR Secretary in 2009, Atienza says he was the first to have issued the order fining MWSS and the two private water concessionaires.

‘We first cited the three entities in April 2009 for violating Section 8 of the Clean Water Act which requires them to provide wastewater treatment facilities and to connect sewage lines in all establishments, including households, to an available sewerage system,’ he said.

The following month, he said an initial fine of P29.4 million was imposed on the said water companies. This has now already ballooned to almost P2 billion and the Supreme Court now says it should be paid inside 15 days without prejudice to further daily fines until the violators meet the terms of the law.

Atienza pointed out that instead of fulfilling their contractual obligation of putting up wastewater treatment facilities, the MWSS and the water concessionaires went to the Court of Appeals, where they lost.

‘They went to the Supreme Court, and now they’ve also lost. It is the end of the road for them. They now have to quickly put up sufficient wastewater treatment facilities, as we’ve been repeatedly pointing out in Congress, and connect all households and establishments in their concession areas to an available sewerage system. Until they do, they will have to continue paying the P322,102 daily fine, which escalates by 10 percent in two years,’ Atienza says.  

The Clean Water Act, he said, gave these companies five years to comply – between April 2004 to April 2009 – but still they did not.

‘Up to now, they have not complied. They really deserve to be dealt with severely’, Atienza added, as he also bared having asked lawyers Romulo Macalintal and Melchor Monsod to look into possible ways of refunding consumers for the 20 percent sewage fee that they have been paying since 1997 for a service that has not been rendered by the water concessionaires.

According to him, we, the water consumers, have been paying a so-called sewage fee amounting to 20 percent of their monthly water bills over the years, for a service that has never been rendered.

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