POSTSCRIPT / August 11, 2013 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Televised traffic talks on crowded city street

TRAFFIC TALKS: Nothing is gained, except ugly publicity, when Manila executives conduct traffic talks with bus operators in the middle of a crowded street in the full glare of TV cameras.

The protagonist just end up performing for the cameras, not for the commuting public whose interests should guide them. Why not sit down for serious dialogue without kibitzers intruding with their cameras and microphones?

Another point: A citywide traffic plan will affect thousands of daily commuters at hundreds of choke points. Instead of dropping the plan like a stun bomb, City Hall should execute it in phases, monitoring every stage for fine-tuning.

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CONTRACTS HOLD: Nobody quarrels with having cheap clean water. But then there is also in our system the constitutionally protected sanctity of contracts.

In the debate between Senate minority leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Antonio Trillanes on the passing on by water concessionaires to their consumers of such costs as income tax payments, both senators scored points.

But in sum, this listener agrees with Enrile that whatever the outcome of the Senate inquiry that Trillanes insists on conducting, the Congress is barred from passing remedial legislation impairing contracts.

A more direct remedy is for Trillanes and his clients to work outside Congress – possibly by court action — to challenge and possibly amend the contracts between the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System and the concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad.

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WATER CRISIS: Before water service was privatized, the MWSS provided water only for an average 16 hours every day to two thirds of Metro Manila. The agency was inefficient, overstaffed and debilitated by very high water losses.

The Asian Development Bank reported that the amount of non-revenue water (supplied but not billable due to leaks and illegal connections) was more than 60 percent, much higher than in Seoul (35 percent), Kuala Lumpur (36 percent) and Bangkok (38 percent).

Tariffs were low and MWSS depended on government subsidies. It was weighed down by debts of $800 million owed to the ADB, the World Bank and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

President Fidel Ramos declared in 1994 a “water crisis” in Metro Manila and began to convince others to see a crisis to gain political support for privatization.

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LURING INVESTORS: As it did in solving a parallel power crisis, the Ramos administration lured investors by offering sweet contracts that included the pass-on provision in exchange for uninterrupted, clean water supply, even to the poor areas.

It does not seem right or fair that now that we have better water service, we have Trillanes types suddenly seeking to remove the pass-on proviso that had helped convince investors to come in.

In West Manila, after Maynilad’s ownership changed in 2007, the company increased its investments.

As a result, the share of customers who enjoy 24-hour supply increased from 32 percent in 2007 to 71 percent in early 2011. Customers receiving water increased from 53 percent in 2007 to 95 percent in September 2011.

Many poor households still do not have access to piped water because they dwell on land occupied illegally and private utilities are not allowed to connect them to the network.

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SERVING THE POOR: In East Manila, Manila Water connected poor sections without laying pipes to each household. It set up a bulk meter for up to 100 households and left it to the community to connect its members. Losses beyond the bulk meter are not borne by the utility.

For its part, Maynilad provides water at a discounted bulk rate. It built the piped network only up to supply points at the entry of narrow alleys, from where residents distribute water among themselves with rubber hoses.

A connection fee of about P200 per household is paid in monthly installments. This is about four times less than what they used to pay water vendors.

Maynilad connected poor communities by laying pipes in slums. But this made it difficult to control theft. Indeed, non-revenue water even increased in West Manila.

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FUN BUT SECURE: City Mayor Rolen C. Paulino of Olongapo, a favorite R&R (rest and recreation) area of the US Navy in the Pacific, regards American servicemen mainly as tourists and not so much as visiting military forces.

The handling of GIs on liberty will become a delicate chore with the expected rise in the number of Americans participating in joint naval exercises. But it is good business: around 12 US ships dock in a year, each disgorging an average of 200 sailors spending around $100 a day.

Treating them as tourists will reduce local authorities’ getting enmeshed in political and legal issues (such as criminal jurisdiction) that are better left to the national government to address.

Paulino said he is bent on making Olongapo a Festival City that is more fun and more secure than ever. They are establishing an invisible shield around the fun area to ensure the safety of visitors.

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POWER DEBT: Paulino, who scored an upset in the May election against the Gordons, was guest at Balitaan, the Friday forum of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) at its Bale Balita (House of News) in Clark Field.

He inherited a P5.1-billion indebtedness for unpaid electricity. Residents and businesses would have been hit by power disconnection had he not worked out a payment scheme using Olongapo’s future internal revenue allotments.

Unlike other local governments with cooperatives as power distribution conduits, Olongapo owns the distribution system it acquired from the US Navy in 1959.

When he took over, Paulino did not do a mass reorganization, except for the purging of ghost employees. He retained (he is legally stuck with them?) key officials identified with the previous mayor.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 11, 2013)

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