Water shortage may prompt ‘drastic’ action from Duterte vs Manila Water, Maynilad

Pia Ranada
Water shortage may prompt ‘drastic’ action from Duterte vs Manila Water, Maynilad
Malacañang also denies that the water shortage, the second in 2019, is being used to push for the Kaliwa Dam project signed with China

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo floated the possibility that President Rodrigo Duterte would resort to “drastic” action over the ongoing water shortage in Metro Manila, including making good on his threat to cancel agreements with water concessionaires.

Panelo on Monday, October 28, “supposed” that Duterte would act harshly against Manila Water and Maynilad, the firms that service the mega city, currently experiencing water interruptions because of the low water levels of Angat Dam.

This is the second water shortage to hit the city in 2019.

“I suppose the fact that they (concessionaires and Metropolitan Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System) have not undertaken corrective measures that will prevent the evolution of this upcoming crisis again would be a factor that would make the President decide on drastic action against them,” said Panelo.

Minutes later, he walked back on this statement, saying he is not sure if the concessionaires and MWSS have not acted on the water shortage.

“If indeed they have not done anything despite the fact that there was a crisis before, then the President may consider that factor,” said Panelo.

He also admitted that he is yet to speak with Duterte on the water shortage. But he referred to the President’s previous statements on the matter, including his threat to scrap Maynilad and Manila Water concession agreements.

Can the agreements be cancelled? Manila Water and Maynilad have concession agreements with the government in which the government grants them exclusive rights to operate and maintain water utilities in specific areas in a given period of time.

The concession agreement lays down ways for Manila Water and Maynilad to recover their investment, which they had made to help the government bring critical services to the people.

At the height of the water shortage earlier this year, then MWSS administrator Reynaldo Velasco defended the concessionaires, saying they’ve done much to improve water access for Metro Manila and Rizal residents.

“They invested at a time when nobody wanted to invest in water utilities… From what we gathered, there is a concession because nobody wanted to do it before so there had to be an incentive so investors can come in,” he said in Filipino.

Manila Water and Maynilad are already taking a beating from a Supreme Court decision to fine them P921 million each for failure to put up sewage lines. 

Duterte had given executives of MWSS and the concessionaires a scolding back in March for supposedly failing to prevent the water shortage in Metro Manila and Rizal areas.

But he ended up not scrapping the concession agreements. Though Duterte announced retired general Emmanuel Salamat would helm the MWSS, Velasco was still re-appointed into the board by Duterte.

Kaliwa Dam controversy. The return of water interruptions to parts of Metro Manila has also revived talks among leftist groups and government critics that the issue is being used to push forward the deal with China to construct the controversial Kaliwa Dam, which proponents say could end water shortage.

Panelo denied this and said the project was undergoing a probe, the findings of which he has not yet seen.

But if the investigation concludes the project will do citizens more harm than good, the Duterte administration would have no qualms scrapping it.

“If the findings show it is indeed disadvantageous and against the people there, it can be rescinded,” said Panelo.

The government is not worried about ruffling China’s feathers if it cancels the deal, which was signed during the November 2018 state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I’m sure the Chinese government will understand because it will do the same if it was placed in the same situation,” said Panelo. 

The water shortage comes at a time when indigenous groups and environmentalist groups revived calls to stop the Kaliwa Dam project after it was awarded an Environmental Compliance Certificate despite alleged violations.

Indigenous tribes in Quezon and Rizal fear massive displacement and complained the process for obtaining their consent for the project, located in their ancestral domain, was not properly done. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.