Manila Water told: Pay consumers

IN HOT WATER Ferdinand de la Cruz, president and chief executive officer of Manila Water Co. Inc. (left), Metropolitan Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) Administrator Reynaldo Velasco (center) and MWSS Chief Regulator Patrick Ty face senators during an inquiry into the water shortage in eastern Metro Manila. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

SENATORS on Tuesday pressed the Manila Water Co. Inc. to compensate all consumers affected by the water supply shortage in its concession covering eastern Metro Manila and parts of Rizal province.

Sen. Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate public services committee, said she was awaiting the computation of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) that could be the basis for the committee to make the necessary recommendations for a possible refund or rebate.

Poe said it was within the power of the MWSS, as a regulatory body, to penalize erring water utilities.

The MWSS, she said, had been sleeping on the job as shown by the volume of wasted supply of water due to leaks since 2015, passed on to consumers by its two concessionaires, Manila Water for the east zone and Maynilad Water Services Inc. for the west zone.

The lawmaker also pointed to the lack of experts at the MWSS, which had hired so many lawyers instead of engineers. The committee was considering recommending a major revamp at the MWSS, she said.

Sen. RisaHontiveros said all those exposed to health risks as a result of Manila Water’s failure to meet its service obligation should be fairly reimbursed.

She cited as an example the National Kidney Transplant Institute, which was forced to cut the number of dialysis patients during the height of the water shortage.
Manila Water must also compensate all affected households and businesses for lost time, gross inconvenience and loss of profit, she said.

“While Manila Water’s public apology and act to hold itself responsible for the water shortage are recognized, a fair and just compensation to the consumers is in order. It is one of the best ways to demonstrate its firm commitment to public accountability and restore consumer trust and confidence,” said Hontiveros.

“With over a million households deprived of access to clean water and exposed to numerous health risks, any apology without compensation is hollow and meaningless,” she stressed.

Hontiveros also countered the MWSS statement that it had no power to hold water concessionaires accountable because the concession agreements did not authorize it to impose fines for unmet service obligations.

“Manila Water’s concession agreement clearly stipulates that the regulatory office can impose financial penalties on the concessionaire if its failure to meet its service obligation adversely affects public health or welfare. In fact, all penalties received by the regulatory body will be rebated to affected consumers,” Hontiveros explained.

Article 10, Section 10.4 of the concession agreement states: “A failure by the Concessionaire to meet any Service Obligation which continues for more than 60 days (or 15 days in cases where the failure could adversely affect public health or welfare) after written notice thereof from the Regulatory Office to the Concessionaire shall constitute a basis for the Regulatory Office to assess financial penalties against the Concessionaire. All penalties received by the Regulatory Office pursuant to this Section 10.4 shall be rebated to Customers affected by the Concessionaire’s failure to meet Service.”

In response, Manila Water said it was looking at a possible “adjustment” in water bills.

“What I’ve instructed with my team is to explore ways to provide some relief to those affected,” Manila Water President and Chief Executive Officer Ferdinand de la Cruz told lawmakers.

Dela Cruz said Manila Water would follow MWSS processes, which could result in the lowering of its tariffs.

MWSS Chief Regulator Patrick Ty also said Manila Water’s rates could also be adjusted.

Relief, finally

Residents of Barangay Barangka in Mandaluyong City expressed relief as water flowed through their faucets on Tuesday.

Though the water pressure was low, residents said it was enough for them to patiently wait inside their homes filling their pails and containers than lining up in the middle of the night or during the hot afternoons for rations.

Water service in Barangka is usually interrupted at 6 or 9 p.m. and resumes at 4 or 5 a.m.

Several businesses that heavily rely on water, such as laundry shops and car wash shops, have resumed operations.

Residents of Barangay Addition Hills likewise complained of no water, but Manila Water asked them for patience because of the area’s high elevation.