By Javier J Ismael/Manila Times
Lawmakers yesterday blasted Manila Water Co. Inc. for warning that water rates could increase “exponentially” if the Supreme Court decision upholding the massive penalty imposed on water concessionaires is implemented.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian slammed the agency for its threat to increase rates by 780% following the P1.8bn fine slapped on water firms for non-compliance with environmental laws.
“Increasing rates by 780% is unconscionable and a downright highway robbery. No business in the world earns 780% in profit! Government regulators should never allow this inhumane increase,” said Gatchalian in a statement.
Buhay party-list Rep. Jose “Lito” Atienza also lambasted Manila Water.
“This is the height of arrogance! Instead of complying with the Supreme Court order, they are now threatening consumers with an oppressive hike in water rates unless the high tribunal reverses its ruling. This is tantamount to blackmail,” the lawmaker said.
“For the past 22 years, they have been charging consumers a so-called “environmental fee” purportedly to put up sewer lines connecting all households to the waste-water treatment facilities. Instead of flowing directly into water bodies such as the Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay, water from households and commercial establishments should be directed to these treatment facilities, converting it to a level that can even be of drinking quality. But until now they have not rendered this service as stipulated in their concession agreement with the government,” Atienza said.
“This is precisely why essential needs such as water should never be privatised and put in the hands of businessmen whose sole motivation is profit,” he added.
It was during Atienza’s term as Environment secretary when Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services Inc. were penalised with P100,000 daily for non-compliance with the Clean Water Act and provisions of their concession agreement.
“We first cited the three entities in April 2009 for violating Section 8 of the Clean Water Act which requires them to provide waste-water treatment facilities and to connect sewage lines in all establishments, including households, to an available sewerage system. The following month, we imposed on them an initial fine of P29.4mn, an amount that has since ballooned to almost P2bn,” the former Manila mayor said.
The high court recently upheld the penalties imposed against the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, Maynilad and Manila Water.
The high court directed the two water companies to pay the fines in 15 days, without prejudice to additional daily fines until the violators meet the terms of their contract and follow the law.
In its motion for reconsideration, Manila Water said enforcing the Supreme Court decision could lead to steep water rate hikes and trigger huge traffic jams because of the massive diggings.
Atienza said the water concessionaires had enough time to construct treatment facilities.
“Instead of fulfilling their contractual obligation of putting up waste-water treatment facilities, they are now blackmailing the Supreme Court with this impending increase. Up to this point, 22 years after the effectivity of their contract, what have they been doing? They have merely been sending ‘Malabanan-type’ sewer tanks to requesting households to have their pozo negro cleaned. They have been stonewalling on the issue, shortchanging the people and the government,” he said.
“As we have been repeatedly calling for in Congress and outside, these water companies should put up sufficient wastewater treatment facilities, to connect all households and establishments in their concession areas to an available sewerage system. Until they do, they will have to continue paying the daily fine of P322,102, which escalates by 10% in two years,” Atienza added.
He called on the government to review the concession agreements with the two companies.
“Isn’t it that in every business endeavour, there is a winner and loser? When you enter into a contract with the government, if you lose, you can’t do anything,” Atienza said.
“You have been collecting money from us for the past 22 years. You should give back every centavo, as well as money you have borrowed from international financial institutions in the name of the Philippine government. If you can’t pay, the citizens will pay instead and the burden is passed on to them. The Supreme Court decision on this matter has been hailed by everyone. But now, Manila Water has the temerity to ask that it be reversed!” the lawmaker said.