“Water crisis” a smokescreen to MWSS’ real crisis

MANILA, Philippines – The proposed 113-meter high Laiban Dam project in Tanay, Rizal is a “monster goldmine” that will bring only unnecessary rate increases to the Metro Manila population while furthering private control over water resources, according to the Freedom from Debt Coalition.  

In a joint protest action with various organizations campaigning against the proposed Laiban Dam Project held Wednesday in front of the main office of Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage Sytem (MWSS), FDC said that any contract to proceed with the Laiban Dam project would not only be disastrous to the local communities already opposing the proposed project, but would also redound into unprecedented costs for the Metro Manila population within the MWSS’ service area.

Dianne Roa, FDC advocacy coordinator, said that the proposed dam project, which has long been hounded by controversies and opposition from its conception in the early 1980s, has been particularly attractive to investors precisely because of the huge profits that they expect to gain from the project. Prior to the unsolicited proposal submitted by the San Miguel Consortium last year, private water concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad previously expressed interest to implement the project. In 2007, American firm Calenergy also submitted an unsolicited proposal to implement the project through a Build-Operate-Transfer scheme which was later struck down for violating the Build-Operate-Transfer law.  

“At a minimum projected cost of $1 billion, this is the most expensive project to date ever conceived by the MWSS, and that cost will be multiplied by the investment returns that any project investor expects to reap from undertaking the project. They won’t be undertaking this from the goodness of their heart, of course there is profit involved,” said Roa.  

Disadvantageous to consumers

Teody Navea, president of the consumer group PATTAK of which FDC is also a member, expressed alarm over what the project would entail in terms of water billings for Metro Manila consumers, particularly those coming from poor households.

Navea stressed: “Sa panahon ngayon, hirap na nga ang mga tao maghabol sa pagbayad ng kanilang mga bayarin sa tubig para lang di sila maputulan ng koneksyon, magdadagdag ka pa nang isang dambuhalang gastusin katulad ng Laiban Dam. Kanino ba nila sisingilin ang gastos na yun, di ba sa amin din?” (These days, people are already having a difficult time catching up with their water billings just to make sure they don’t get disconnected, and then you’re going to come up with an extremely expensive project such as the Laiban Dam. Who else will pay for this expense if not us, the consumers?”)  

The draft contract allegedly being brokered between the MWSS and the San Miguel Consortium have previously been attacked for containing provisions grossly disadvantageous to both Metro Manila consumers and the government.

In July of last year, former NEDA Director Ralph Recto conveyed misgivings regarding the draft contract, particularly with regards to a “take-or-pay” provision similar to those contained in contracts with Independent Power Producers which were said to have caused unprecedented increases in electricity rates, to the disadvantage of electricity consumers.

Smokescreen to MWSS’ real crisis

FDC further pointed out that the “water crisis” presently being propagated by the MWSS in pushing for new water sources such as the Laiban Dam only serves to distract the Metro Manila population from the real crisis plaguing Metro Manila’s water distribution system.

“They keep talking about a water crisis when in fact the real crisis lies in the MWSS itself and the manner by which it has mismanaged Metro Manila’s water supply. This is a crisis in management, not a crisis in supply,” Roa said.

In a previously released position paper against the dam project, FDC pointed out that the actual water supply allocation available to the MWSS service area far exceeds double the minimum supply standards provided by the World Health Organization for meeting the water and sanitation needs of the entire Metro Manila population.

The problem, according to FDC, lies in the fact that much of this supply allocation is lost to leaks, particularly in the Maynilad service zone where non-revenue water (NRW) levels have risen to as high as 69 percent. Non-revenue water refers to the portion of the water supply allocation that wind up being unaccounted for because they are lost to leaks and pilferage.

“MWSS’ Regulatory Office is specifically mandated to regulate the performance of these private concessionaires, yet we have never heard of an instance wherein Maynilad was penalized for failing to manage its NRW levels. Always the MWSS has followed the pattern of shielding and favouring private interests over its public duty,” said Roa.

She further added that MWSS’ established pattern of favouring the interests of its private concessionaires is a dangerous precedent in the face of another contract being brokered with another private company, the San Miguel Consortium.

“There is absolutely no guarantee nor probability that the MWSS will prioritize the welfare of the public, both the affected local communities and Metro Manila consumers, in its negotiations with San Miguel,” Roa said. (30)

RELATED ARTICLE: We must stop the Laiban Dam Project

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