SMC’s Ramon Ang offers free water; profiteers, keep out
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - March 20, 2019 - 12:00am

That’s right. Free water. 140 million liters per day (MLD). Duly treated for human use. Ready for distribution to dried-up cities.

Profiteers, stay away from this free water. Manila Water Co., after botching the supply to its concession area, should not sell it. Neither should water districts (WDs) that may avail of it.

The clean water not only is free, it also would cost tycoon Ramon S. Ang P1.66 million a day, or P100 million in 60 days, to produce. He is giving it away to help out during the crisis.

The 140 MLD is from Bulacan Bulk Water Treatment Plant, a unit of San Miguel Corp. of which Ang is president-COO. The free daily supply would bring relief to two million people, or 455,000 families, whose faucets ran dry in Greater Manila’s east-south zone. Said Ang of the shortage: “This situation is unfortunate and dire for our countrymen who do not have access to basic water. Many are affected: households, hospitals, schools, small businesses. Right now the best thing we can do is to pull together and help each other.”

Ang made the donation through Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), grantor of Bulacan Bulk Water’s franchise. Operationalized in Jan., Phase 1 of the plant can produce 200 MLD of treated water from Angat Dam’s raw supply. The province’s few modern WDs are able to buy only 60 MLD daily; others are upgrading facilities to receive strong water pressure. (Retail is only P8.50 per cubic meter, the country’s cheapest bulk water.) Ang will run the plant at full capacity to donate the excess 140 MLD.

Ang anticipates logistics challenges. About 14,000 truck trips a day with 10-kiloliter tanks, or 7,000 trips if 20-kiloliter tanks, would be made. The water would be delivered from the treatment plant below Angat Dam all the way to stricken areas. Those are: Mandaluyong, all barangays; San Juan, five barangays; Pasig, seven; Angono, Rizal, three; Antipolo, ten; Taytay, three; and Binangonan, 12.

Ang is contemplating to acquire tanker trucks for deliveries outside his Bulacan concession area. He also will install pipelines for third-party donees like Manila Water and other WDs. This would mean opening the plant to their trucks, which needs MWSS consent and coordination.

In accepting, MWSS would do well to stress the free offer. That’s to preclude profiteering and self-promotion by donees. Administrator Reynaldo V. Velasco thanked Ang for the gesture and for past proposals for long-term water supply alternatives to aging Angat Dam.

Lawmakers blame Manila Water mismanagement – too fast market expansion, too slow facilities construction – for the mess. The firm prematurely used up not only its Angat Dam share of raw water but also its La Mesa Dam reserve. It expects to ease its distribution shortage only by end-May. Maynilad Resources, with a west-north concession zone one-third larger, has not been affected. But an El Niño drought is forecast to delay rains till July.

In inquiries by the House of Reps and Senate this week Manila Water presid  ent Ferdinand dela Cruz apologized to customers and the government. For weeks before that, starting Mar. 6, the firm attributed the shortage to the onset of El Niño, government’s lack of alternative sources, Maynilad’s bigger water share from Angat, and panicky customers in non-stricken areas who filled up buckets in homes and offices. The mother Ayala Group and the Makati Business Club have been silent.

Lawmakers also seek penalties for Manila Water, but MWSS Regulator Office head Patrick Ty is reluctant. The firm was given in Oct. P6.50-per-cubic-meter increase from its old rate of around P14, staggered till 2022.

Water is Ang’s top-of-mind for the SMC conglomerate, from food and beverages to power and infrastructures. Three weeks ago he announced that all the businesses beat by two years their goal of reducing water use by 20 percent in 2020. This he did by switching to “non-scarce” sources: rainwater, recycled water, and seawater. The big water sustainability goal is to cut it by half by 2025.

A week later Ang donated an eye-popping P1 billion to clean up Tullahan River, a major pollution contributor to Manila Bay. For years Ang has been dredging the waterway that flows from La Mesa spillway in Quezon City to Malabon and Valenzuela. He gave Environment Sec. Roy Cimatu a five-year cleanup master plan. For the grant and cleanup to not go to waste, government must relocate riverbank squatters and shut down pollutive factories.

A day later Ang announced a tie-up with materials science firm Dow Chemicals to pave the country’s first recycled plastics roads. This too is for water, as plastics are the main polluters of waterways and seas, choking biodiversity and causing floods. The rehab of Manila Bay and tributaries requires removal of millions of tons of plastic engulfing the seabed up to a meter deep and 50 meters wide. Where to put all that? In roads made of plastic.

In the past administration Ang proposed to build a series of dams in the Sierra Madres in Rizal-Laguna as bulk water source for Greater Manila. It would tap eight billion MLD of raw water that flows – wasted – to the Pacific Ocean. The government is to award it instead to a Chinese firm.

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It’s the ‘70s once more on Mar. 27, 8 p.m., at the SMX Convention Center, SM Aura, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. “Hotdog Minus 1,” a tribute concert for band original Rene Garcia (recently deceased), is led by composer-brother Dennis. Plus one very special guest: Boy Camara.

For red-hot tickets, call (0917) 7069986 or (0945) 4864399.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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