To Manila Water: Please treat Ayala subdivisions’ sewage
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2019 - 12:00am

President Rody Duterte has scolded his waterworks officials and private concessionaire Manila Water Co. for the shortage. They are to report by Apr. 7 what fixes they’ve made. Brothers Jaime Augusto and Fernando Zobel de Ayala, headmen of Manila Water, have taken full responsibility for the mess. With those top-level moves, consumers in Greater Manila’s east zone can thenceforth expect steady water supply. “Please be assured that Manila Water is exploring all possible options to bring back services to the high levels that we are all accustomed to,” the Ayalas say. Manila Water is reputed for good corporate governance. From personal acquaintance, I know JAZA and Fernando to prioritize public welfare over profit.

While they’re at it, Messrs. Duterte, JAZA, and Fernando can look into a related problem. For years it has been bugging residents of Nuvali in Santa Rosa, Laguna, and Westgrove in Silang, Cavite. They complain of lack of sewage treatment in their posh subdivisions. They believe it’s the responsibility of Manila Water Philippine Ventures, a subsidiary of Manila Water Co.

Nuvali Estate consists of dozens of high- and mid-priced middle-class homes and business spaces. Westgrove Heights is upper crust, built in 16 phases. Both were developed by Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) as “master-planned communities.” ALI is a major business of Ayala Corp., maker of the famed Makati central business district. JAZA is Ayala’s chairman, and Fernando the vice chairman. In Manila Water their roles are switched: Fernando is chairman; JAZA is vice.

The woes became evident about this time last year, with the early onset of heavy rains. Manholes in lower streets of the hilly subdivisions spewed out household (toilet and kitchen) wastes. Stinky, unsightly. Environmentally conscious residents investigated -- and discovered a grave deficiency. They had been forbidden from digging individual home septic vaults, on the promise that there’d be centralized sewage treatment plants (STPs). It turned out that most subdivisions in Nuvali, and phases 6 to 16 of Westgrove had no such STPs or connections. Sewer lines from the homes led to settling ponds. Rain floods flushed the waste first to tributaries, then onto the main river, and finally into Laguna de Bay.

Notably, on the other side of Laguna de Bay in Cardona, Rizal, Manila Water has a filtration plant. Raw lake water is converted to potable, then fed to home and offices. It was partly the delayed startup of the Cardona plant that precipitated the shortages in Manila Water’s concession zone.

Fairly or not, the residents suspect an Ayala conspiracy. It doesn’t help that different Ayala companies are pointing at each other. ALI, to whom the residents complained as subdivision developer, says the STPs are the duty of Manila Water. Manila Water passes accountability to Makati Development Corp., as supposed constructor of the sewerage. Overseen by the Makati Property Development Corp., the subdivisions are soon to be turned over to the homeowners.

The homeowners refuse to accept, as they would be held answerable for future and past environment breaches. The lack of STPs violates the Sanitation Code, the Clean Water Act, and the environmental compliance certificates (ECCs) of the subdivisions.

There are no federations of homeowners associations in each Nuvali subdivision or Westgrove phase. But residents’ complaints are on record. Most prominent are the ones led by a Westgrove resident, an expert on health, environment, safety, and risk.

To the credit of ALI and Manila Water, an STP will be made operational for Westgrove’s phases 6 to 16 by this May. The malfunctioning one for phases 1 to 5 had been fixed earlier. Also, the sewage treatment fee of 50 percent of water bills charged on the residents would be refunded starting this April.

In Nuvali the pushing and pulling for corporate action has just begun. Residents reportedly have identified administration officials who can take their plaint directly to President Duterte.

Westgrove homeowners also had complained to the Environment Management Bureau in Southern Tagalog. The pollution adjudication board of that agency of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources has yet to render a verdict. The Laguna Lake Development Authority has confirmed the waste discharges to the separate rainwater drains.

Manila Water is touted to have netted P6.5 billion in 2018, or six percent more than the previous year. Being a utility company tacked with water supply and sewage treatment, it will no doubt plow back that amount for facilities and service upgrade. That is the Ayala legacy. JAZA and Fernando will live up to it, as they courageously and humbly did in acknowledging shortcomings in the water crisis.

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