Unclean
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - August 27, 2019 - 12:00am

A few months ago, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu declared Manila Bay would be safe for swimming by the end of the year. That was grossly wishful thinking.

The safe level for bathing is a fecal coliform level of 100 most probable number (MPN) per 100 milliliters (ml). The monitoring station at San Antonio de Abad in Malate last reported a fecal coliform level of 2.44 billion MPN per 100 ml.

A total of 17 river systems continuously dump untreated wastewater into the bay. A fifth of the polluted water flowing into the bay comes from the Pasig River alone.

A total of 178 local government units need to rein in the dumping of pollutants into river systems draining into the bay. All the coastal municipalities from Bataan down to Cavite need to clear tens of thousands of informal settlers dumping waste directly onto the waters. About half of all households, commercial establishments and factories dumping wastewater into the bay do not conform to treatment standards.

We might need a century to bring Manila Bay’s water to “swimmable” levels.

Cleaning up Boracay was easy. The tiny island was shut down while rehabilitation happened. We cannot shut down all polluting human activity in Central Luzon, Metro Manila and Southern Tagalog as we clean up the bay.

A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court ordered the two water concessionaires to pay hefty fines for failing to comply with the Clean Water Act and installing full sewerage connections for their service areas. In addition, they are ordered to pay additional fines for every additional day of non-compliance.

If the DENR was indulging in wishful thinking, the Supreme Court order appears totally disconnected from reality – or at least what is possible given the circumstances.

After the SC order was announced, the usual know-nothing leftist agitators demanded the fines be reverted to the paying customers. They were opportunistically trying to score propaganda points entirely in defiance of what science says is possible. This is not the way to go if we want to achieve full treatment of all wastewater in the metropolis.

According to a Rappler report, Maynilad has invested over P23 billion since it started operating in 1997 to achieve 22.55% sewerage coverage in its service area. Every additional 1% connection to the water treatment system will require P2 billion in investments.

For its part, Manila Water is preparing P115 billion in investments to achieve full sewerage coverage by 2037. Only 15% of its service area is presently connected to water treatment facilities.

There are no shortcuts to achieving this. A sewerage system should precede urban sprawl. It did not, in Metro Manila’s case, because of poor governance. We can only proceed installing that by digging up roads and putting connections underneath buildings. That can only be done at great cost and much time.

The Supreme Court, the DENR and the leftist agitators need to reconcile with the facts. The hefty fines will not help hasten the process. They will only make that process less affordable for all.

Comparability

After failing to even argue their case before the Tariff Commission during the public hearings, the merchants who make easy money importing cement rather than investing in our own manufacturing capacity. now want to evade the safeguard tariffs imposed on the commodity.

The Tariff Commission, invoking the Safeguard Measure Act, recently decided to replace the previous provisional safeguard tariff of P8.40 per 40-kilo bag to a permanent P12 tariff. This is in the face of imminent serious injury to our cement manufacturers brought about by surging imports.

The DTI found that unabated cement importation caused the earnings of local cement manufacturers to fall sharply by 49% in 2017. Net income fell by 29% the same year. It fell even more dramatically by 78% in 2018, threatening the industry’s viability.

The Tariff Commission based its computation on the difference between the weighted average landed cost of imported cement and the average domestic ex-plant selling price of local manufacturers. That is fair.

The cement importers, however, are now arguing that the tariff be computed comparing the difference between their ex-warehouse price and the ex-plant price of local manufacturers. That is absurd.

It allows importers to conceal real landed costs and make immense profits as the commodity exits their warehouses by approximating the prices of local manufacturers. That renders the safeguard duties ineffectual.

The cement importers likewise falsely claim that the safeguard duties will bloat housing costs. The Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines (CEMAP) disputes that.

CEMAP points out that cement constitutes only 5% of housing costs. The P12 safeguard duty represents only 5% of cement prices. Therefore, the most impact this could have on housing cost would a negligible 0.25%. 

CEMAP, while welcoming the safeguard duties imposed by the Tariff Commission, thinks the P12 per bag duty is probably too low. They estimate the fair level to effectively counteract dumping is between P18 and P20 per bag.

It was the Trade Secretary who took the bold and unprecedented move of instituting safeguard measures to prevent permanent harm to local manufacturing posed by dumping. The necessity for making that move was confirmed by the Tariff Commission.

It is within the authority of the Trade Secretary to adjust the safeguard duties according to prevailing market conditions. Local manufacturers are hoping an upward adjustment is still possible.

At any rate, the local cement industry may heave a sigh of relief. Government has stepped in to prevent the industry’s annihilation by dumping. From hereon, the local industry must improve its own competitiveness.

ROY CIMATU
Philstar
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