POSTSCRIPT / October 24, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Who’s next in line to Duterte in case…?

THESE are uncertain and dangerous times. People are asking anxiously who would succeed an ailing President Duterte if he stepped down or a permanent vacancy in the presidency occurred for any reason.

We are supposed to expect that the Vice President becomes the President if such a vacancy occurs – since we are still under the Constitution that provides for an orderly transition or succession in Section 8, Article VII:

“In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the President, the Vice President shall become the President to serve the unexpired term. In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of both the President and Vice President, the President of the Senate or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall then act as President until the President or Vice President shall have been elected and qualified.”

Despite constitutional succession being clear even to us non-lawyers, there appears to be some uncertainty as to the ascendancy of Vice President Leni Robredo in case of a permanent vacancy.

It is easy for the usual suspects to concoct charges to disqualify and remove Robredo from the line of succession despite the fact that the Vice President, as it is with the President, can be ousted only by impeachment.

The supermajority in the House of Representatives (which investigates and files the impeachment charge) and the Senate (which tries the impeached official) could be creative enough to find ways to remove the Vice President anytime the signal is given.

Speculations on succession shifted to high gear after 74-year-old Duterte, photographed grimacing in pain as he got off a Mercedes for the formal enthronement Tuesday of Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, cut short his Tokyo trip because of “unbearable pain” reportedly in his pelvic area.

Although not a medical doctor, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told the media that Duterte’s pain was a result of a motorcycle accident last week in the Presidential Security Group’s compound near Malacañang.

As we write this, we have not heard of any bulletin on the President’s medical condition, although he has acknowledged suffering from various ailments. Neither have we seen pictures of the supposed motorcycle accident, but only read conflicting versions of it.

The uncertainty of the Vice President’s taking over in case Duterte vacates the presidency is due mostly to his well-known disapproval of Robredo and the pending election protest of former senator Bongbong Marcos who lost to her in the 2016 VP race.

Marcos lost again in the recount in the very areas he had chosen to show the worst cheating, with the revision of the ballots even increasing Robredo’s lead by 15,093 votes. Still, the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, allowed him to continue fishing for evidence elsewhere.

The delay has prompted the Makati Business Club, among other concerned sectors, to state after the SC/PET released the recount report: “We hope this is a step toward dismissing the protest, and reducing the political and judicial uncertainty that… manifests risk premiums for those who would invest in Philippines jobs and industries.”

 Less tap water and zero sewerage?

THE SPECTER of water rationing again for customers of Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water Co. Inc. because of the decreasing water level of Angat Dam, the main source of the two concessionaires, rakes up the twin problem of neglected sewerage in the national capital region.

The Supreme Court in August imposed a P921-million fine, plus P321,000 daily, on the two concessionaires for not providing sewerage to customers who have been paying for it. In 2011, the water firms managed to get the SC to postpone this obligation till 2037, but the court, realizing its error, rectified it to August 2019.

The water providers are saying that remedial works will cost them a huge amount and worsen the traffic mess. They even threatened consumers with higher water rates, while pressing their PR campaign.

We sought background and insights from civil engineer Wilfredo Segovia, who is into construction and realty development. Below are some of his inputs:

The terms of the water firms’ original concessional franchises required sewerage.

Consumers’ water bills have a sewerage charge disguised as an environmental fee, with collections running into billions in the last two decades. The water firms’ financial statements show billions in retained earnings and reserves, as well as investments to subsidiaries.

Yet they have not installed sewerage. Instead, they offer to pump out the sludge from septic tanks occasionally. They built some big boxes to dump the digested sludge, basically composed of mud.

This is not sewerage treatment but sludge removal, just like what Malabanan does every five years. They give it the fancy name “septage system” to give the impression of compliance, but it is just for show.

The water providers are making much noise in media to condition public opinion to support their appeal to the SC. If allowed to postpone to 2037, they will have another 17 years to charge more environmental fees and high water rates — with no sewerage.

That means more pollution of Manila Bay and rivers, disease, and epidemics.

There is a simple engineering solution, but it is not what the two providers plan to do.

Gravity sewers that they plan to build will not work in most parts of Metro Manila due to high water table. The sewers will be waterlogged and become useless. Manholes will overflow during rainy season and pollute the streets with raw sewage. Besides, gravity sewers require deep and wide trenches which will be impractical.

The right approach is to collect only the effluent from septic tanks using force mains and to treat them in small Sewage Treatment Plants in the community. This will not require massive street digging, posing less disturbance to traffic. Cleaning septic tanks sludge can be done every five or 10 years.

Effluent collection and localized STP treatment is the most affordable and least disrupting solution. The entire Metro Manila can be sewered in less than 10 years.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 24, 2019)

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