Government takeover of Manila water firms imminent if shortage problem worsens

Mandaluyong residents lineup to collect water, March 2019 <I>Photo: ABS-CBN News</I>
Mandaluyong residents lineup to collect water, March 2019 Photo: ABS-CBN News

The government will take over Manila’s water supply concessionaires using emergency powers if the city’s water supply continues to decline, a spokesman announced yesterday, one day after President Rodrigo Duterte similarly vowed to use “extraordinary powers” to push through a controversial Chinese-funded dam to purportedly ease the problem.

Read: Fixing Manila’s water shortage problem shouldn’t infringe on indigenous rights, commission says

In a Malacañang press briefing, presidential mouthpiece Salvador Panelo affirmed that Duterte would take over water concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad, which are privately owned companies, if he felt it necessary.

“Yes, he said, ‘I will assume control,’ so that means the government will take over,” Panelo said.

He added that Duterte believed that he could solve the water crisis, which is the result of a less-than-ideal amount of rainfall flowing into Manila’s dams.

“Because he said, ‘If [they] cannot solve the crisis, I will do it for you,'” Panelo added.

He did not, however, mention how.

Two concessionaires service Metro Manila’s water needs: Maynilad Water Services, Inc., owned by the Ayala Corporation; and Manila Water Co., owned by billionaire Manuel Pangilinan. Both operators draw 97 percent of their supply from the Angat Dam. In the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa water system, water flows into Angat Dam, then to Ipo Dam, and finally to La Mesa Dam, to supply the metropolis with its water.

The reservoir lets out a total of 4 billion liters of water each day for both concessionaires. Of this, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System allocates 2.4 billion to Maynilad, and 1.6 billion to Manila Water. Manila Water, however, said in March that it can no longer keep up with demand, which has risen to an average of 1.74 billion liters a day.

Both concessionaires are pointing to the cyclical El Niño weather phenomenon as exacerbating the supply problem.

Panelo yesterday insisted that there is a legal basis for the government taking over the operators.

“The provision of the constitution is very clear. The president’s primary duty as head of state of the government is to serve and protect the people,” he said, referring to Section 17, Article 12 of the Philippine Constitution.

The article states that in times of “national emergency” the state may “temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with [the] public interest.”

The presidential spokesman, however, said he could not give a clear timeline as to when the potential presidential takeover could happen.

“That’s his call. If he feels that there is a need for that, then he will do it,” he said, suggesting that it could happen soon.

“Maybe tomorrow suddenly we’re out of water; why would [the president] take another week to decide?”

Read: Water service interruption may start on Thursday, Manila Water says

The latest flexing of presidential muscle comes as Duterte renews the push to build the controversial, decades-old Kaliwa Dam project, which the government claims would supply Manila with an additional 600 million liters of water a day. The China-backed project has been met with protests due to environmental concerns, and the Commission on Human Rights has advised against it due to the potential impact on local and indigenous communities.

The dam’s reservoir is expected to submerge almost 2,400 hectares of indigenous land and 38,000 hectares of forest in the South Sierra Madre mountain range. About 10,000 families from the indigenous group, as well as numerous other residents, will be affected.

Meleng Rutuqeio, a leader of indigenous rights group AGTA,  said in a statement sent to Rappler today that the dam “will kill thousands of trees in Sierra Madre, and this will affect not only us Dumagat and Remontado [people] but millions and millions of Filipinos.”

In the face of the widespread concerns, Duterte has vowed to used his “extraordinary” powers as president to push the project through.

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CITY: MANILACATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: ENVIRONMENT, POLITICS

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