Water problem too big
by Jon Joaquin
One of the first things I learned when I first arrived in Davao City in 1990 was that Davaoeños were very proud of their water. “It’s the second best water in the world,” I was told by almost everyone, and indeed. I marvelled at the fact that I could drink straight from the tap without suffering any consequence. When I decided to live here I also proudly repeated that line to visitors, and it wasn’t until I began to work as a journalist that I started to ask where Davaoeños got that information. No one could answer me; it was just a “fact” that everyone accepted. Even government officials made the claim and no one questioned them.
I finally asked the then-general manager of Davao City Water District (DCWD), and he said he had read it in some magazine several years back. When I pressed him for more information, he admitted he couldn’t remember what that magazine was, and that he wasn’t sure what that magazine’s source was. I came out of that interview realizing that the claim we were making had no real basis.
That doesn’t mean Davao City’s water isn’t what we make it out to be. Our water is clean – so clean that we drink straight from the tap. There are places near the source where you can drink straight from the ground. DCWD regularly tests the water and it consistently surpasses the standards for cleanliness. In my almost three decades of living here I have never gotten sick because of the water.
Many Davaoeños thus take water for granted. I don’t mean that in a bad way; water is just so abundant, clean, and inexpensive in this city that we don’t really worry too much about it. We do know that other places, notably Metro Manila, are not as fortunate. Just this year news of water shortages hitting many parts of the national capital region dominated even our local media. It was one of those issues that made me glad I don’t live there anymore.
But recently the water woes of Metro Manila became all too real for us when news came out that the two private water concessionaires there – Manila Water and Maynilad – had won an arbitration case against the government before the Singapore Permanent Court of Arbitration in November. Under the ruling, the Philippine government was to pay Manila Water P7.4 billion and Maynilad P3.4 billion for revenues lost because the government had refused to allow the two companies to raise their rates. For us living outside the Metro, that meant we would also be shouldering the total P10.4 billion penalty because where else would government get the money?
It was a good thing President Duterte decided to take the two companies head-on and angrily announced that his administration had found that the contracts awarded to them years ago contained “onerous” provisions – one of them was that government was supposed to pay them if they fail to make a profit. I’m sure there were good reasons for this when the contracts were first drawn, but by offering to renegotiate with government after Duterte’s tirades, Maynilad and Manila Water have virtually admitted that these are no longer applicable today.
Maynilad and Manila Water have both said they will no longer seek to collect the amount awarded to them and that they will not implement any approved new water rate, but as if to show that the water problem is too big and complicated, the two companies have threatened to increase their water rates by 100 percent following the decision of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) revoking the extension of their concession agreements.
This has prompted Malacañang to put the two concessionaires on notice that the president will not renege on his constitutional duty of enforcing the law.
“Water is a natural resource and access to it by the people is a basic human right, and constitutionally protected as well. Any measure therefore in derogation of this right requires government intervention,” Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, and this is one issue that most Filipinos are united about.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the original author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Pilipino Express publishers.
Jon Joaquin is the Editor-In- Chief of the Davao City-based Mindanao Daily Mirror. E-mail Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.