Hundreds of residents of Metro Manila’s 212 waterless communities trooped to the main office of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) in Quezon City urging the agency to stop the re-bidding of its 84 percent stake in Maynilad Water Services and look instead into water access problems causing undue suffering to households still un-connected to the piped water grid.

“We do not want a repeat of the 2003 Tondo cholera tragedy that sent 800 poor people to hospitals, eight of which died,” said Nora Protacio, spokesperson of the Progresibong Alyansa ng Tagatangkilik ng Tubig sa Kamaynilaan (PATTAK).

She added that 80 percent of the 212 waterless communities in Metro Manila are included in the service area of Maynilad, the West Zone water distribution firm undergoing corporate rehabilitation due to financial insolvency.  

“The reason why MWSS used public funds to buy majority shares in the mismanaged, bankrupt company was supposedly to protect the interest of the people and ensure that water services will not be interrupted, will be improved and expanded,” stressed Francis Isaac of the Blue Drop Campaign of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC).

According to Isaac, MWSS even borrowed $31 million from the World Bank to infuse fresh capital into the ailing company, an act beyond the authority of the government water agency.

MWSS bought majority shares of ownership in the company through a debt-to-equity swap.  Maynilad, then owned by Benpres Holdings of the Lopez family and its foreign partner Suez-Ondeo of France, owed the government water agency P10 billion in unpaid concession fees since 2001.

Meanwhile, Bantay Tubig coordinator Estong Tomas explained that re-bidding Maynilad will not bring water to waterless communities. “Funds brought in by investors and revenues from consumers will first pay for the debts of Maynilad. If there is some money left after paying Maynilad’s creditors and when considering service expansion and water supply allocation, commercially lucrative areas will be given preference.”

The protesters further demanded that the re-bidding terms of reference and process should be reviewed especially when leading bidders, Manila Water and DM Consunji, come from questionable backgrounds in providing water services.

“If the rebidding pushes through, Maynilad consumers are further exposed to business-oriented companies whose primary interest is raking in large profits,” said KAAKBAY Executive Director Alain Pascua.

He said that Manila Water raised its rates by more than 700 percent during its nine years of distributing water in the East Zone. DMCI, meanwhile, has been reported to have failed in meeting its service commitments and upgrading water facilities in the Subic Freeport’s water distribution utility.

The protesters further expressed suspicion why the rebidding process is being fast-tracked.  Issuance of the notice of award to the winning bidder will be on December 13, 2006.  

“MWSS officials have lost their sense of what holding public office means.  They must uphold public interest or else they should resign now,” the group demanded while announcing plans to step up their actions until the MWSS stops the rebidding process.

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