Solon scores water firm

A VETERAN solon slammed the Manila Water for its plan to increase water rates by up to 780 percent following the fines imposed by the Supreme Court.

Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said this is the height of arrogance that instead of complying with the SC order, they are now threatening consumers with an oppressive hike in water rates.

The SC has imposed P921-million fine against Manila Water for violating the Clean Water Act and for failing to put up wastewater treatment facilities as specified in their contract with the government.

“This is tantamount to blackmail. For the past 22 years, they have been charging consumers a so-called environmental fee  purportedly to put up sewer lines connecting all households to the wastewater treatment facilities,” Atienza said.

“Instead of flowing directly into water bodies such as the Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay, water from households and commercial establishments should be directed to these treatment facilities, converting it to a level that can even be of drinking quality.  But until now they have not rendered this service as stipulated in their concession agreement with the government,” Atienza added.

The solon reiterated his call to return to the government control over water utilities.

“This is precisely why essential needs such as water should never be privatized and put in the hands of businessmen whose sole motivation is profit,” Atienza added.

It was during Atienza’s term as Environment Secretary when Manila Water Company and Maynilad Water Services were penalized with P100,000 fines daily for non-compliance with the Clean Water Act and provisions of their concession agreement.

According to Atienza, in April 2009 they already cited three entities 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.

“The following month, we imposed on them an initial fine of P29.4 million, an amount that has since ballooned to almost P2 billion.  The Supreme Court says the two corporations should pay the fines within 15 days, without prejudice to further daily fines until the violators meet the terms of their contract and follow the law. Instead of fulfilling their contractual obligation of putting up wastewater treatment facilities, they are now blackmailing the Supreme Court with this impending increase.  Up to this point, 22 years after the effectivity of their contract, what have they been doing? They have merely been sending ‘Malabanan-type’ sewer tanks to requesting households to have their pozo negro cleaned.  They have been stonewalling on the issue, shortchanging the people and the government,” Atienza added.

Atienza urged the government and President Duterte to look into the concession agreement, to review and, if possible, revoke it altogether.  

“Di ba sa kahit anong negosyo, merong panalo, merong talo?  Kapag pumasok kayo sa negosyo with the government, kung matalo kayo, wala kayong magagawa. But you have been collecting money from us for the past 22 years. You should give back every centavo, as well as money you have borrowed from international financial institutions in the name of the Philippine Government. Kung hindi kayo makakabayad nito, ang mga mamamayan na naman ang magbabayad, ang mamamayan na naman ang mahihirapan. The Supreme Court decision on this matter has been hailed by everyone.  But now, Manila Water has the temerity to ask that it be reversed!” Atienza said.