Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Monday that Congress needs to draft a new law giving the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System the power to penalize erring water concessionaires.
Arroyo’s statement came as the House opened hearings on the weeks-long water shortage
that has beset customers of Manila Water, one of two private water concessionaires.
“Perhaps in the law, we have to add a penalty provision for those who failed to comply with some parts of the concession agreement,” Arroyo said on the sidelines of the congressional hearing Monday.
Arroyo also said it was a “good thing” that Manila Water admitted its shortcomings from the start.
“The hearing is not to find out who to blame but rather how to move forward,” she said.
At the hearing, MWSS chief regulator Patrick Lester Sy said Manila Water violated its concession agreement for failing to provide uninterrupted water supply 24/7.
“Based on the terms of the concessionaire’s agreement, Manila Water has violated their mandate,” Sy said.
But said initially that the water regulatory agency does not have the power to impose fines—but later said the concession agreement has provisions to penalize Manila Water.
Manila Water president Ferdinand dela Cruz also acknowledged that his company could face penalties after it failed to provide 24/7 water service to consumers, and if its water pressure significantly decreased to 6 psi from the 20 psi systemwide average.
“In the concession agreement there are clear provisions on the performance of a concessionaire,” Dela Cruz said.
At the same time, Dela Cruz apologized for the water crisis, acknowledged the anger felt by tens of thousands of its affected consumers and said he was holding himself accountable.
“I am holding myself fully accountable for the sudden drop in our service levels to your constituents whom we have consistently served over the past 21 years with 24/7 water availability and sufficient water pressure. March 6, 2019 is a date I will not forget as president of Manila Water,” Dela Cruz told the panel.
He also said the Manila Water would be willing to pay any fines required by the MWSS for the inconvenience it caused to its customers.
Dela Cruz also appealed: “Your honor, through you, we seek your constituents’ understanding as we continue the discipline of properly refilling our 28 network reservoirs and reliably operating our 20 pump stations. Service interruptions are still necessary to achieve these and our water availability goals.”
Lawmakers led by Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez lamented the fact that the MWSS was powerless when it comes to imposing fines and penalties against the erring water concessionaires.
Benitez also said they are eyeing a class suit against the Manila Water.
“Manila Water admitted violations, there is negligence on their part and proper compensation to costumers should follow,” Benitez said at a news conference as he rejected the statement of Ty that it has no power to impose fines and penalties against Manila Water.
Mandaluyong City Rep. Quennie Gonzales, whose district was badly hit by the water crisis since March 7, agreed with Benitez as she demanded a refund from Manila Water for her constituents, at least for the month of March or for the duration of the crisis.
Her call was echoed by Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Isagani Zarate.
“It’s clear that the people are on the losing end here,” he said.
Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza asked the officials of the Manila Water and MWSS to resign.
During the hearing, De la Cruz said: “I am prepared to resign for failing the customers, but my focus right now, your honor, is to restore the service even if it’s a slow process.”
The Palace, meanwhile, rejected a proposal from Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia to create a Department of Water, saying this was “unnecessary.”
In a Palace press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said to solve the water shortage, the country needed to build reservoirs and use deep wells in communities and cities to ensure sufficient supply.
He called the current shortage “purely inefficiency [and] mismanagement.”
Pernia said the proposed department would centralize all government efforts, including the management of water resources and distribution of water supply, to guarantee water sufficiency and avoid its shortage. He earlier blamed the crisis on the fragmentation of agencies involved in handling the country’s water needs.
In a radio interview, MWSS administrator said Manila Water has restored supply to 90 percent of its customers but added that service interruptions would continue.
Some areas will still suffer service interruptions for four to 12 hours, Velasco told radio dzMM.
Manila Water, which services around 6 million people in the capital’s east zone, cut supply in several areas as the water level in La Mesa Dam, its emergency source, dropped due to lack of rain and high demand.
Also on Monday, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte said Congress could help address the water shortage by requiring commercial, institutional and residential estate developers to install rainwater retention facilities in their projects in Metro Manila and other major cities.
“Rainwater is a free, abundant, and regular natural resource that the Philippines is fortunate to receive year in and out. It is high time that we make use of it for the general advantage of our people,” he said.
Villafuerte, vice chairman of the House committee on local government, said the government should also invest in small water-impounding facilities and pumps to help communities retain rainwater for their water needs.
In his province, he said, public schools have started putting up facilities to retain rainwater. With Nat Mariano
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