Palace to water execs: Shape up or ship out

President Rodrigo Duterte berated officials of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and the two private concessionaires at a meeting in the Palace Tuesday night, threatening to fire regulators for failing to anticipate and do something about the water supply problem in Metro Manila.

Duterte was supposed to discuss possible solutions to the water crisis with officials from the MWSS, Manila Water Co. and Maynilad Water Services, but the meeting turned out to be a “presidential monologue,” as the President told them he was not going to listen to their explanations or excuses, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Wednesday.

Water officials knew of the problem leading to the service interruptions, but did nothing to prevent it from happening, Panelo said.

“They simply did not do their job. All they care about is [getting] profit from the water,” Panelo said.

For the last two weeks, some 1.2 million households in the east zone of Metro Manila serviced by Manila Water have suffered service interruptions that the company blamed on low water levels at the La Mesa Dam as a result of the El Niño phenomenon. Customers of Maynilad in the west zone, however, experienced no interruptions.

Panelo said the President, who did not even look at the officials, was “obviously outraged” at having to rush to Manila from Davao before they moved to end the service interruptions.

He told them to “shape up or ship out,” Panelo said, threatening to fire the MWSS officials and to terminate the concessionaires’ contracts.

Duterte ended the meeting abruptly after 40 minutes and ordered the officials to submit a report on the water shortage before April 7, after which he will decide whether heads will roll or whether the contracts of the concessionaires will be terminated.

Both chambers of the Congress have also held investigations to look into the water shortage issue.

On the third straight day of hearings into the shortage, Manila Water president and CEO Ferdinand dela Cruz asked for forgiveness from his company’s customers before a House panel.

Dela Cruz made a similar apology before the Senate committee on public services on Tuesday.

But Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said being sorry was not enough and urged Dela Cruz to resign.

“You have failed as a management man, as a marketing man, as a distributor of our prime commodity which is water. We cannot take your sorry,” Atienza said.

“If my resignation today will not only erase our supply deficit but also resolve to a united front to urgently build new water sources, then I would be extremely happy to resign at this very moment,” Dela Cruz replied.

While he apologized in Congress, his company announced more nine-hour service interruptions, this time in parts of Marikina City and San Mateo, Rizal on March 20 and 21, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Manila Water also announced that its Cardona Water Treatment Plant began operations on March 14, and is now providing water in several towns in Rizal, to about 800,000 people.

The plant, which draws water from Laguna Lake, was designed to augment Manila Water’s main source, Angat Dam.

Also on Wednesday, the MWSS said the construction of the China-funded Kaliwa Dam project would ease water crisis in Metro Manila and would be cheaper than an alternative Japanese proposal.

At a press briefing in the Palace, MWSS administrator Reynaldo Velasco said the construction of the Kaliwa Dam would cost $248 million or P12.2 billion, compared to the Osaka-based Global Utility

Development Corp. Ltd.’s proposed $410-million Kaliwa Intake Weir project.

The Kaliwa Dam project in Quezon, or the New Centennial Water Supply Project, will be funded by the official development assistance from China and is expected to provide 600 million liters per day to Metro Manila and nearby areas.

He said the bidding was already completed and there is already a winner.

He denied reports that the project would cost $800 million.

The proposed Kaliwa Dam could provide water storage during the rainy season, unlike the weir, a low dam that cannot store water, he said, noting that the reserve could be used during the dry season.

In the Senate, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara called for the full implementation of a 30-year-old law mandating the establishment of rainwater harvesting systems in all barangays nationwide.

He said the move was important in the wake of the water shortage that could spread beyond Metro Manila and Rizal province.

Angara was referring to Republic Act 6716, also known as the Rainwater Collector and Springs Development Act of 1989, which requires the construction of rainwater collectors in every barangay to prevent flooding and ensure the continuous provision of clean water during dry seasons.

“As early as 1989, we already had this law intended to help alleviate water scarcity and drought down to barangay level, and yet no one seems to be implementing it,” Angara said.

Rainwater harvesting offers a practical and immediate solution to the country’s water supply problem, he said.

“While we all wait for the construction of new dams, which may take years to complete, LGUs [local government units] should practice rainwater harvesting because it is a practical solution that will have direct impact on the grassroots,” he said.

Rainwater harvesting is done in India, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore, and it has proven quite effective, Angara said. “Why shouldn’t we implement the same, especially since we get an abundance of rain?” With Macon Ramos-Araneta and PNA

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Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System , water supply , Manila Water Co. , Maynilad Water Services , Salvador Panelo
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