Residents of an impoverished area are still deprived of steady water supply even if they regularly pay the rates imposed by the water company. While they initially welcomed their mayor’s support, they lament the inaction on the part of the water company and the mayor’s decision to use their plight as a way to increase his electoral stock. Clearly, what they are going through right now does not only reflect the failure of privatization of water utilities, but also the opportunism of politicians, especially now that local elections are two years away.
BY JHONG DELA CRUZ
Residents of six barangays (villages) in Bagong Barrio, Caloocan have been suffering from poor water supply for some years now.
The Maynilad Water Services Inc. claimed that it increased the water supply in Bagong Barrio, Caloocan by 30 percent after the residents held a picket to denounce their much-delayed supply of water.
In November, residents of Bagong Barrio took Maynilad to task for its failure to supply water for almost a year even if they were already paying the prescribed water rates.
Some 100 members of Alyansa Sigaw Tubig (Alliance Call for Water) staged a picket at the Caloocan office of Maynilad demanding that steady supply of water be immediately restored in their area which has about 100,000 residents.
The affected villages were Barangays 142, 144, 146, 149, 153 and 157. Patio Carpio, Bgy. Captain of 149 said the scarce water has caused brawls among neighbours who have subscribed instead to the nightly water rationing by the local government. Carpio said that Maynilad management did not act on the complaints they made in their previous meetings.
Carpio said that the nightly rationing have had ill-effects on the residents since family members, including small kids, had to line up until the wee hours of the morning just to have water for the next day.
Despite the poor service, Maynilad has charged residential consumers a minimum rate from P100 ($1.87, based on an exchange rate of P53.42 per US dollar) to P200 ($3.74), according to Carpio. They still pay because Maynilad has threatened to cut their water lines when the water supply improves in due time.
Water for the People Network said that the case of the waterless communities is a reflection of the failed privatization of Maynilad.
The group said water rates have increased by 298% for Maynilad consumers and 501% for Manila Water since 1997.
More than four million residents of Metro Manila are still deprived of water supply and 11 million are without sewerage connection, according to the network. It added that much of Maynilad’s water is being allocated to commercial establishments and high-end subdivisions in nearby Malabon.
The government already approved the sale of its 84 percent share in Maynilad, reneging on its financial obligation to the water utility. Based on its original rehabilitation plan, the government must buy its shares in the company by paying around $53.7 million if it wants to remain primary shareholder.
Benpress Holdings Corp. of the Lopezes held majority ownership of Maynilad until a Quezon City court ruled for the west zone concession rehabilitation of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System. Maynilad currently provides service to six million customers in Manila’s west zone area.
Caloocan City Mayor Enrico Echiverri reportedly joined the complaining residents in urging Maynilad to respond to the points raised against the company.
Maynilad in a statement said that it had increased the water pressure along the preliminary lines leading to Caloocan. Maynilad formed a team that conducted valve manipulations to increase the water pressure in the area.
According to Maynilad, 30 percent of Bagong Barrio residents already have flowing water from their faucets since December 6. Maynilad said that it will continue monitoring the water situation in the area to determine whether an increased water tankering is needed to boost the water supply.
For Larry Canilao, chairperson of Migrante-Bagong Barrio chapter, there is collusion between the local government and the water firm. He noted that Mayor Echiverri is running in the 2007 election.
“It’s profit for Maynilad and politics for Recom (nickname of Echiverri),” said Canilao. He accused the mayor of using water scarcity as campaign propaganda.
Water trucks that have “Recom” signs are now moving around the areas. “Mayor Recom deliberately lets our families live without water and ingeniously found a way to take advantage of our miserable plight,” Canilao said.
Canilao added that posters that say “ito ay taos pusong handog ni Mayor Recom sa mga residente ng Bagong Barrio” (this is a gift that comes from the heart of Mayor Recom to the residents of Bagong Barrio) are now in place.
Migrante challenged the mayor to urgently direct Maynilad to provide the communities with 24-hour clean and affordable water immediately.
“With the 2007 local elections fast approaching, we fear that Mayor Recom would further prolong the agony of Bagong Barrio residents, as rationing water has proven to be a very effective campaign gimmick for him,” Canilao said. (Bulatlat.com)