CWA should be a concerted effort
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - August 25, 2019 - 12:00am

Just recently, the Supreme Court ordered water concessionaires Maynilad Water Services and Manila Water Co. to pay P921 million each for violating the Clean Water Act (CWA) and over P300,000 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.  

In their separate petitions for review, however, Maynilad and MWC said while they have done their part and have in fact invested billions of pesos yearly in modernizing water distribution and sewerage systems, there are others who had been remiss in their duties under this law.

So the question is, whether these two should be meted such huge penalties when in fact, this job requires multi-sectoral action and there are factors beyond these concessionaires’ control that prevent the faster construction of sewage treatment plants (STPs) or facilities.  

MWC pointed out in its petition that the DENR is tasked by law to compel citizens to connect existing sewer lines and those yet to be established by MWC and Maynilad. 

It may also be worth noting that 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. 

Also under the law, the Department of the Interior and Local Government is mandated to order all Metro Manila mayors and governors of affected provinces to inspect and determine if wastewater treatment facilities like septic tanks are in place in their respective communities.

The DILG was  also required by the SC  in its ruling in the 2011 case of MMDA vs Concerned Residents of Manila Bay 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. 

Thus, the responsibility for linking the sewer lines of private homes and commercial establishments to the existing sewerage system in Metro Manila, Rizal and Cavite is not the sole responsibility of the water concessionaires but rather requires collective action from several government agencies, many of who have not done what is required of them.

Other factors that hinder the success of the CWA is the presence of informal settlers who dump their wastes into rivers, lakes and esteros, and the fact that simultaneous construction of STPs will only add to traffic congestion.

 It should also be noted that in the same 2011 Manila Bay case, the SC gave the MWSS and the concessionaires until 2037 to complete the setting up of wastewater management facilities. This judicial interpretation of the CWA in effect nullified  an order of the Pollution Adjudication Board  in 2009 which states that the task of setting up wastewater treatment facilities should be  completed five years after the enactment of the CWA in 2004.  

Meanwhile, LGUs, though required under the CWA, have not appropriated lands, including the required right-of-way (ROW) and road access, for the construction  of the STPs. Because of red tape, there have also been delays in the issuance by LGUs of the necessary permits for the two concessionaires to go ahead on their STP works.

 It may therefore be unfair for some quarters to accuse the concessionaires of tucking sewerage fees in their monthly bills while not building such STPs. 

 While Maynilad has collected environment and sewerage charges of P38.07 billion since 1997, it has spent P46.7 billion on these items from 1997 to date. It is targeting a 100 percent completion rate by 2036. Maynilad, as of April 2017, is already operating 20 wastewater treatment facilities and is in fact building more.

It would be unfair to put all the blame on these two concessionaires who are in fact relying on the 2037 deadline given by the SC earlier to finish their work under the CWA.

Gov’t rescue efforts

Last January, the Department of Trade and Industry imposed provisional safeguard duties on imported cement amounting to P8.40 per bag after determining a huge surge in imports was causing serious injury to local cement manufacturers.

Unfortunately, the P8.40 per bag provisional safeguard duty by the DTI  proved vastly insufficient as imports even surged by 48.2 percent in the first half of 2019 to 3.4 million metric tons compared to the 2.29 million tons imported in the same period last year.

The Tariff Commission, after conducting formal investigations, has just recommended to the DTI the imposition of permanent safeguard duties of P12 per bag of cement.

The TC in its report noted that Type I and Type IP cement were imported into the country in increased quantities starting in 2016, and that the domestic cement industry’s market share, sales, profits, production and capacity utilization deteriorated from 2013 to 2018.

It said there exists an imminent threat of serious injury in the future, with imports likely to substantially increase due to, among others, the substantial freely disposable production capacities of exporters and the importance of the Philippines as an export market by top suppliers Vietnam and China.

The TC, through its chairperson Marilou Mendoza, said serious injury to the domestic cement industry would occur imminently if a definitive safeguard measure against importations of cement is not applied.

It recommended to the DTI that such measure be applied for a period of three years starting from the date the provisional measure took effect.

For his part, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said he would review the amount proposed by the TC, including industry proposals for a higher duty of from P18 to P22 per bag.

The local industry maintains that their 28 million metric ton annual manufacturing capacity is more than enough to meet domestic demand which is buoyed by the government’s Build Build Build infrastructure program.

Kudos to the DTI and the TC for doing what needs to be done, although the DTI may have to impose a higher duty than what the TC has recommended to really protect the local cement industry.

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