15 November 2003
The Tondo tragedy, which killed at least seven people and downed five hundred others, may not be the last water tragedy to hit Metro Manila residents.
Recent potability testing of water from Barangay Longos in Malabon, conducted by the UP Natural Sciences Research Institute as requested by the Freedom from Debt Coalition, showed that the sample analyzed contains greater than 16 fecal coliform bacteria per 100ml. The Philippine National Standard for dinking water is less than 2.2 coliform bacteria per 100ml.
Any coliform presence in drinking water is cause for concern as many diseases can be spread through fecal transmission. Health symptoms related to drinking or swallowing water contaminated with bacteria generally range from no ill effects to cramps and diarrhea (gastrointestinal distress).
Manila health officials sought to downplay claims by urban poor group KPML that scores of Caloocan, Malabon and Navotas residents have been downed by various illnesses due to contaminated water coming out of Maynilad faucets. They claim that the number of incidents of illness is within “normal” range. Downplaying the threat of water-borne diseases seeping into Maynilad’s pipe networks is irresponsible.
Maynilad, on the other hand, very quickly washed their hands off the issue by immediately placing the blame on illegal connections and passing on the responsibility to housing authorities, without even the benefit of investigation into the causes and circumstances of these incidents.
Evidence is clearly pointing to contaminated water as the problem. And for this, we hold both government and Maynilad to be responsible and accountable. By passing on the function of providing clean and safe water to private hands, the government nevertheless has the ultimate responsibility to ensure access to clean and safe water for all. Unlike other services, water is a basic requirement for life. Poverty should not be a hindrance to access. Maynilad, by claiming the role of running the water industry, should deliver services for which they are more than adequately paid for.
Maynilad pledged to put in a total of PhP23.858Billion by the end of 2001 to repair, rehabilitate and maintain Manila’s pipe networks. Maynilad spent only PhP8.96Billion, not even 40% of the promised outlay. Most of the pipes in Malabon are made of asbestos and galvanized iron (G.I.), both of which have already been weakened by old age, constant flooding and salty water. Maynilad obligated itself to replace the existing old pipes but didn’t.
Maynilad also failed to maintain enough water pressure to prevent the ingress of contaminated water into their pipe networks. This is despite its obligation to ensure water pressure (adequate for a three-story building) by 2001.
Despite six rates increases and an overcharging of around PhP2.4Billion since January this year, Maynilad failed to improve or repair their networks. Yesterday, it sought Court protection from its creditors by filing a case for receivership in Branch 90 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City.
Maynilad has not improved its services. It has stopped putting in major capital investments since last year. No major capital expenditure is foreseen in the future as Maynilad creditors are not keen on extending new loans to the ailing firm.
Maynilad’s service is bound to go worse and it is highly doubtful if it will ever go better. It is to the public’s best interest for government to terminate its contract with Maynilad now more than ever.
We demand decisive action from the Government:
- Conduct a thorough, impartial investigation of the problem of water contamination and incidents of illnesses and hospitalization.
- Ensure health and medical assistance for the victims.
- Ensure compensation to victims by parties responsible.
- Ensure sustained monitoring of the compliance with health standards by the water companies.
- Grant no more extensions to Maynilad’s payment of its concessions fees.
- Initiate steps to restore public ownership and management of water service.