Manila Water’s alarm bells
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2019 - 12:00am

What does one think about in the steamy comfort of one’s bathroom when one is unadorned and butt-ass naked like Aphrodite?

Not much, really. One can just mindlessly enjoy the touch of water on the skin. 

But for us in the east zone of Metro Manila, there’s a recurring shower thought lately: 

“Who really is to blame for the water mess?” 

Should we blame P-Noy’s water boys? Should we blame leftist groups for opposing every dam project? Should we blame Manila Water? Or should we blame Maynilad for having water?

In my search for answers (thank you to my sources for always patiently answering my questions), here’s what I gathered:

1. Manila Water sounded the alarm

Ayala-owned Manila Water, the east zone concessionaire, sounded the alarm bells way back in 2012.

It was in the business plan the company submitted to the previous Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, then led by chairman Ramon Alikpala and  administrator Gerardo “Gerry” Esquivel. 

In this March 2012 original business plan proposal, Manila Water said there was a big need to develop new sources of water.

It projected a 2019 supply requirement of 2,222 million liters per day (MLD) and a demand of 1,705 MLD.

Thus, there was a gap of 622 MLD between Manila Water’s supply projection of 2,222 MLD and its allocation from Angat of 1,600 MLD. 

On top of the MWSS-led Kaliwa Dam which was assumed to provide Manila Water with 275 MLD by 2019, Manila Water proposed to develop other new major water sources: 1) Tayabasan Dam in Rizal which the company itself proposed to develop and which would provide 175 MLD; and 2) Sumag Tunnel which the company also proposed to develop to increase supply from Angat Dam and which would provide 90 MLD for the company.

It also proposed to develop the Cardona Treatment Plant which would draw water from the Laguna Lake. This would provide 50 MLD. 

The new water sources would have provided 499 MLD out the projected supply gap of 622 MLD.  Other smaller sources were identified to fully close the gap.

However, P-noy’s water boys did not approve the proposed business plan.

If they approved even just the Tayabasan Dam, there would have been an additional 175 MLD by now – enough to cover the 150 million liters per day water consumption deficit that the company has to cover from its fixed allocation of 1,600 MLD from Angat Dam.

Instead, what was approved was only the Cardona project, but unfortunately – no thanks to Manila Water’s folly -- it was not finished on time. 

2. P-Noy’s MWSS stands by its action (or inactions)

I asked president Benigno Aquino III’s MWSS administrator Gerry Esquivel what happened back then. 

“It’s very clear. There was no water shortage during our time,” he tells me. 

This, Gerry says, is enough vindication of every judgement call they made, including rejecting Manila Water’s business plan and sending the two concessionaires to arbitration. 

He said their actions – or inactions – were all based on judgement calls which they believed were appropriate at the time.

They simply did their jobs and that there was no political color behind their decisions.

“There’s no politics in this. You see, the color of water is clear – it’s not yellow or whatever,” Gerry says in jest. 

And to those saying they didn’t do anything, Gerry trumpeted the Aquino administration’s Water Security Legacy program.

3. Manila Water’s liability

Despite sounding the alarm bells early on, Manila Water isn’t off the hook. The fact remains that on March 6 and days after, it failed on its commitment to provide water 24/7.

It should have done more knowing that the alarm it raised fell on deaf ears. 

Of course, all of us are also part of the problem. This country only acts when there is a crisis. 

Active measures

Moving forward, we should have a long-term water security plan. I am optimistic that the no-nonsense MWSS administrator Reynaldo Velasco, a retired general, can lead the regulator to craft out long-term policies on water.

For the rest of us, let us all learn to value water.

As the matriarchs in Forbes Park and the labanderas in the slums may have realized by now, water shortage is a great social equalizer. 

Let’s stop thinking that because we are filthy rich, our posh homes will never run out of water. Or that because we’re dirt-poor, we deserve free water.

It’s time we also learn the different aspects of this ultimate commodity. It should even be part of school activities -- visits to dams and water treatment plants. This is done in other countries.

In Lisbon, Portugal, there’s even a water museum. I saw this in 2011 during a reporting trip funded by the European Commission. 

The museum is home to the city’s remarkable aqueduct that was built in 1746 to bring Lisbon its first clean drinking water. It is an 18th century feat of engineering that reminds locals and visitors alike of the importance of water. 

Let’s do that too. Let’s remind ourselves always – whether we’re standing naked in the shower or we’re counting profits in our towering offices – that every drop counts. 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales.

MANILA WATER METROPOLITAN WATERWORKS AND SEWERAGE SYSTEM
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