‘Tubig atbp.’

"We tend to solve problems as they come through band-aid solutions."


I remember a true though self-deprecating observation that former Senator Orly Mercado used to say and which I now place the same in the context of the recent outrage, followed by the usual hunt for culprits, over the water shortage that plagued parts of Metro Manila recently:

“The problem with us Filipinos is that we tend to see no farther than the tips of our noses…ang sama mo, marami pa sa atin, pango [unfortunately many of us have flat noses,]” Orly used to quip.

We realize we have a problem only when it stares us right in our face.  We cannot think beyond the present.  Planning for a decade or two, or even five decades hence as Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew used to preach, is simply a no-no to most policy-makers.

So we also tend to solve problems as they come through band-aid solutions. “Pwede na ‘yan” is typical reaction to solving a problem.  Until the same situation recurs.

Policy-makers always go into a frenzy of blame-throwing, with media feeding on the frenzy, until the issue dies down.  Still no solution.

As far back as the martial law years, proposals were being drawn up regarding the future water needs of our burgeoning metropolis.  I’ve heard about Laiban as far back as the late 70s or early 80s.

The late industrialist of respected memory, Enrique Zobel, even publicly proposed pumping up Taal Lake’s water in Batangas up to Tagaytay which is more than 2,000 feet above sea level, where a filtration and purifying plant could be put up, and the water going down to Cavite and southern Metro Manila by sheer gravity.  It sounded very logical, but the idea was just that—a bright idea, with nothing done thereafter.

At the time, I had just put up a small house in the Tagaytay ridge, and there were as yet no fishpens dotting the shoreline of what was a beautiful and pristine body of fresh water.

The same could be said about Laguna de Bay, so very close to Metro Manila. Desilted and cleaned, it could be a source of water for the metropolis as well. But then again, President Aquino junked a dredging project by a Belgian firm, (the second largest in the world, incidentally)  negotiated by his predecessor, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  PNoy alleged corruption, which he never bothered to prove. That decision caused us taxpayers close to a billion in damages which we are paying and must continue to pay because we lost in the suit filed by the Belgian firm.  But worse, we lost an opportunity to dredge and de-silt the lake, the groundwork for a circumferential road, and a potential source of water.

So 90 percent of the water needs of Metro Manila with its 12-million full-time residents and 10 more million day-trippers source its water from Angat Dam in Bulacan, part of which also flows into the La Mesa Reservoir in Quezon City.  Angat, built as far back as 1961, also irrigates close to 30,000 hectares of palay fields in Bulacan and Pampanga.

Our officials knew the risks of having a sole source of water, and also knew the pressures of increased population on that source.  Several proposals have been accumulating dust: Kaliwa; Kanan; Laiban; even the reconstruction of Wawa in Montalban.  Now the MWSS and other water-regulatory bodies tell us they could not proceed with any of these projects because of opposition from indigenous people, leftists, environmentalists, etc., ad nauseam.

It was during President FVR’s time that the “Nawasa” monopoly was removed, and in its place, the Metro Manila concession areas were divided into the east and west zones, one going to Manila Water, the other to Maynilad.  It was an excellent privatization template that through the past 20 years has brought tap water into our faucets, and we have all benefited from the improvement through the years.

The simple question that begs to be answered, and should be addressed by a numbers comparison is:  By how much has the serviced population increased (demand) in the last 20 years, and what has MWSS or whatever government agency in charge done to increase the supply of water?

That is what the President, who has called the agency heads to Malacanang, should ask. 

And now that his government is negotiating with the Chinese government for a loan to finally construct the Kaliwa Dam, some wise guys howl and ask “why the Chinese?”

What a sore and sorry country we are indeed!  Meanwhile, irate residents of one of the most densely-populated, traffic-choked, service-poor in almost all aspects of life mega-cities in the universe simply cry… “Tubiiiig!” 

The House of Representatives entered the picture, and in its first hearing, the CEO of the private concessionaire for the east zone of NCR, Manila Water, admitted culpability and offered to resign forthwith.

Not to be outdone, the Senate also had to join the investigative circus, as if culpability had not yet been established.  And as if solutions we knew from Day One but failed to implement, have changed.

And to think Congress is on recess, and the politicians are supposed to be in the hustings. But then, it’s free TV, live!  Better than shaking hands with the hoi polloi, ne c’est pas?

Which brings me to another observation: Until now, the Senate and the HoR could not agree on the minutiae of the budget.  From the arguments, it seems they just do not want to co-exist.

Why, at the height of the water shortage, the Senate was breaking ground on an P8 billion building in toney BGC , a supposedly beautiful structure designed by an American architectural and engineering firm. “Iconic” they beam.

In the middle of the four multi-storey structures is a huge auditorium where both  senators and congressmen, with provision for future expanded numbers, can hold joint sessions.  So in the future, expect the State of the Nation to be hosted by the Senate in Taguig rather than the House in Quezon City.  One asks…why can’t they just stay in one conjoined building or compound?

Topics: Lito Banayo , ‘Tubig atbp.’ , water
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