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Was there a violation of the Clean Water Act?

"The call of various groups to renationalize  water service is reckless and regressive."

 

The Supreme Court recently ordered the national capital’s two water concessionaires—Maynilad Water Services and Manila Water Co.—to pay P921 million each, or a total of close to P2 billion in penalties for violation of the Clean Water Act. On top of these fines, they were also ordered to pay over P300,000 (adjusted by 10 percent per year)  for each day of their supposed failure to connect the sewer lines of homes and commercial establishments to the existing sewage line in the metropolis.  

Both concessionaires said they are exploring legal options to appeal the unanimous 12-0 decision of the high court. In their separate petitions for review, they told the Court that the penalties imposed on them for their alleged violation of Republic Act 9275 or the Clean Water Act were arbitrary and excessive, and that they were being singled out even if they had done their part in the cleanup job while other concerned institutions like the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources and of Public Works and Highways had been remiss in their duties under this law. 

In the first place, the implementation of RA 9275 or the CWA of 2004 requires a coordinated effort that involves not only Maynilad and MWC, but several government agencies as well along with the concerned local government units.  Under this law, the DENR is the primary agency responsible for implementing and enforcing the CWA. 

That the implementation of the CWA, especially the cleanup of water bodies, is a joint effort—and not the sole responsibility of Maynilad and MWC—was  affirmed by the Supreme Court in the case of MMDA et al.  vs. Concerned Residents of Manila Bay, otherwise known as the Manila Bay case.  

Under RA 9275 or the CWA, the Department of the Interior and Local Government is mandated to order all mayors of Metro Manila and the governors of affected provinces to inspect and determine if wastewater treatment facilities (e.g., septic tanks) are in place in their respective communities. In case of non-compliance, the concerned LGUs shall take action to ensure compliance, the law likewise states. 

The DILG was  also required by the SC  in its ruling on the 2011 Manila Bay case to submit a five-year plan of action that will contain measures intended to ensure compliance of all non-complying factories, commercial establishments and private homes to the CWA. 

The DILG and LGUs are likewise required to consider providing land for the wastewater treatment facilities of the two concessionaires or their regulator, the MWSS. 

Meanwhile, the DPWH, in coordination with LGUs,  was also tasked under the CWA to  prepare a national program on sewage and septage management. The DPWH has not implemented this program. 

The  DENR, as lead agency responsible for implementing the CWA has not completed drawing up  a Water Quality Management Area Action Plan, which includes setting the goals and targets for a sewerage or septage program. 

Both Maynilad and MWC claim they have exerted utmost efforts to comply with the provisions of the CWA. As pointed out by MWC, they “have made significant improvements to domestic wastewater management in compliance with their service obligations.”

However, the realities show that while the  concessionaires have done so, the other agencies involved didn’t do their respective jobs as set by the CWA.  

Another thing to consider is that the wastewater treatment facilities that the concessionaires have built so far would be rendered ineffective in realizing the goals of the CWA if informal settlers continue to directly dump their wastes into our rivers, lakes and esteros. Again, this is something that should be handled by the LGUs in the concerned communities.

Also, the concessionaires cannot also speed up the construction of STPs because simultaneous construction will cause heavy inconvenience to the public resulting from the ensuing road excavations. Hence, building STPs have to be done in phases to avoid traffic congestion in the affected areas.

As a result of the SC decision imposing fines on Maynilad and MWC, various groups have found a new rallying point against Big Business. They have called on the government to re-nationalize water service and allow the MWSS take back control of the concessions given to  Maynilad and MWC in 1997 at the height of the water crisis. Before privatization, MWSS was so inept that it only covered 69 percent  of the metropolis. Because access to clean water was relatively scarce and so expensive back then, households had to cough up as much as P3,000 to P5,000 monthly for water bought from roving vendors. Nowadays, Maynilad customers pay just about P974 for a normal water consumption level of 30 cu. m. per month.   

The call of various groups to renationalize  water service is reckless and regressive as it will lead to a return to the pre-1997 era of expensive, if not unsafe, water and erratic deliver of water services. In fact, the takeover by Maynilad and MWC has been cited by the World Bank as a model in privatization, with MWSS Administrator Reynaldo Velasco describing the water privatization as a “successful legal framework” in public-private partnership ventures.  

ernhil@yahoo.com

Topics: Ernesto Hilario , Maynilad Water Services , Manila Water Co. , Clean Water Act , MWSS
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