BELOW is a letter from Jose Rene Gregory D. Almendras, president/CEO of Manila Water Co. Inc., one of two giant firms raking in billions in profits yet failing in their basic obligations to provide sufficient potable water and an adequate sewerage system for their customers in Metro Manila.
Much of what the MWCI boss says has come out in their press releases, but we still quote him verbatim below:
This has reference to your column entitled “Water firms’ failure in supply, sewerage” published on Oct. 29, 2019, in The Philippine Star. Please allow us to clarify several points you have raised:
• ON WATER SUPPLY PROVISION
1. The mandate of Manila Water, as agent and contractor of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System for its East Service Area is to operate, treat and distribute water that has been allocated to us from Angat Dam. For more than 40 years now, we have been dependent on Angat Dam as the major source of water. The development of new sources rests on government.
2. As early as 2009, we have included in our Service Improvement Plan, submitted to our principal, the MWSS, our proposed water source projects to meet the demand of increasing population and economic development. Unfortunately, these projects were not approved. It was only during the recent water shortage during summer that medium-term source projects were approved by the MWSS such as the Wawa-Calawis Water Supply Project in Antipolo and East Bay Water Supply Project which will draw water from Laguna Lake.
3. Since 1997, the Angat allocation to the concessionaires coming from the National Water Resources Board through MWSS has remained at 46 cubic meters per second. Currently, we have been receiving 40 cu.m./sec. which is less than the normal allocation. We have been doing our best to evenly distribute this supply to about 7 million residents of the MWSS East Service Area which is more than double the population of 3.1 million when we started in 1997.
4. We have absolutely no control over the situation in Angat Dam which has been continuously declining due to insufficient rains. If this trend continues, Angat Dam will not reach its ideal yearend level of 210-212 meters to ensure sufficient supply for next year particularly in the summer months. This is the reason that in coordination with MWSS and NWRB, we have begun 4-10 hours of rotational service interruption at night.
5. Since 1997, Manila Water has:
a. Provided 24/7 water from only 26% in 1997 to 100% of its central distribution system with more than 1.8 million residents from low-income communities benefitting from the company’s flagship program Tubig Para Sa Barangay.
b. Reduced system losses from 63% to the current 10% and recovered about 700 million liters of water a day that were re-distributed to formerly unserved and underserved areas even without a new water source. Water recovered is equivalent to the volume in a medium-sized dam had government built one.
c. Improved water quality and consistently complied with the stringent standards of the Philippine National Standards for Drinking Water.
• ON WASTEWATER PROVISION
1. Manila Water is compliant with Section 8 of the Clean Water Act and has connected households with sewage lines to sewerage systems available in 2009, or five years from the effectivity of the Clean Water Act. We have emphasized this in our Motion for Reconsideration submitted to the Supreme Court on Oct. 2, 2019. Based on our understanding, Section 8 does not provide any timeframe for the completion of a centralized sewerage system and does not even require the establishment of a complete centralized sewerage system. Note that the Supreme Court also issued an extended resolution on the Manila Bay Case requiring concessionaires of the MWSS to submit their plans and projects for the construction of wastewater treatment facilities and the completion period for said facilities, which shall not go beyond 2037.
2. We would like to clarify that the 780% increase in tariff refers to how much the tariff would have increased if all wastewater programs were completed during the period 2004-2009. We did not state that this is an impending tariff increase. Any tariff adjustment, whether upward or downward, will have to be recommended by the MWSS Regulatory Office and approved by the MWSS Board of Trustees.
3. We are currently on track in the implementation of the MWSS-approved Service Improvement Plan to spread implementation of wastewater projects until 2037 to mitigate any potential tariff to customers.
4. Over the past 20 years since we started, Manila Water has spent P38.5 billion for wastewater infrastructure and recovered only P36.9 billion in the form of collections from tariffs.
5. When MWSS employed Manila Water as contractor and agent in 1997, there were only 2 sewage treatment plants in the East Zone with a capacity of 40 million liters per day. Since then, Manila Water has constructed and now operates 40 sewage and septage treatment plants with a combined capacity of 310 million liters per day benefiting almost 2 million in terms of population.
6. Manila Water continues to provide desludging or septic tank cleaning services at no additional cost to consumers via a fleet of 66 desludging trucks and ensure proper disposal and treatment of septage through the company’s two modern septage treatment plants.
7. While we would like to fast track implementation of all wastewater plans and programs, it is physically impossible to build a complete sewer network in the next 5 to years as these would require large tracts of land for wastewater treatment plants and lay more than 500 kilometers of additional sewer lines. This is the reason the approved SIP for wastewater has been spread until 2037.
8. We are cognizant of the impact as costs to the consumer will be exorbitant. The total expenses to treat wastewater is about P12/cu.m. which is about four times the cost to treat water at P3/cu.m.
9. Laying and installing new and rehabilitating and/or replacing old sewer lines would require digging up all streets in the MWSS East Service Area which will aggravate the worsening traffic situation in the metropolis.