By Ina Alleco R. Silverio
While the public is continually bombarded with reminders to save water, Malacañang is pushing for the privatization of the water industry which, critics say, will lead to higher water rates.
Rodrigo Aranjuez, Water System Employees Response (WATER) national president said the public should oppose President Benigno Aquino’s plans to the privatize the country’s water services
“Privatization means not only lay-off for water districts employees but also more inaccessible and unaffordable water for our people. Water is considered a basic human right, as such, the government has the responsibility to ensure this service. We will fight to keep this service public,” he said.
Water is the 20,000 strong national federation of employees’ unions and associations in the water districts and other utilities,
In the meantime, employees from the water districts nationwide are protesting against what they said is the corruption of water officials that is behind the draining of public funds that should have made it possible for the public to gain greater access to water.
Aranjuez said that while the employees have yet to receive their benefits, — including the their rice allowance for 2010 which amounts to P1,500 (US$34.88) members of the board of directors/trustees of their respective water districts have given themselves an average of P30,000 (US$ 697.67) to P70,000 (US$1,627) in benefits.
“It is condemnable that while we are being deprived of a measly benefit, these officials are rewarded themselves with big benefits”, Aranjuez said.
According to Aranjuez, the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) granted the year-end financial assistance (equivalent to their per diems in four meetings) and P5,000 cash gift to members of the Board of Directors/Trustees of local water districts.
A memo circular dated February 11, 2011 signed by LWUA Administrator Daniel L. Landingin entitled “Implications of Executive Order Number 24” authorized the immediate release. The benefits were also released the same day the WDs received the memo.
“Instead of complying with the EO issued by the President on February 10, 2011, the LWUA circumvented the policies set forth by the EO and deceitfully interpreted the same to their favor,” he said.
Aranjuez said that board members of a large water districts received P47,000 (P42,000 financial assistance and P5,000 cash gift) while directors of very large water district received P66,000 (P61,000 financial assistance plus the cash gift).
EO 24 supposedly set the ceiling for the benefits, allowances and other for employees and officials of Government Owned and Controlled Corporations.
Section 5 of the executive order states that “Members of the Board of Directors/Trustees of Local Water Districts shall likewise be subject to the policies and principles set forth herein. Separate rules pertaining to the classification and compensation of members of the Board of Directors/Trustees of Local Water Districts shall be issued for this purpose”.
“Using the “separate rules… shall be issued..” clause, LWUA allowed the release of the benefits. They obviously circumvented the rules and found a loophole so they could claim massive benefits,” said Aranjuez.
World Water Day
Still connected to the issue of water services, March 22 was marked internationally as World Water Day but a local environment group said that the much has to be done to save the country’s water resources and improve water services.
“Despite of our vast water resource potential, the Philippines is among the lowest in terms of water availability in Southeast Asia. Only one out of every two Filipinos has piped water in their house. Only a third of the rivers in the country can be used for water supply. This is because majority of our rivers have varying levels of pollution and degradation. Pasig River, Paranaque River, Bocaue River, and Meycauayan River are among the most polluted rivers in the country and also in the world,” said Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan-People Network for the Environment (PNE).
Clemente said the Philippine government is among those that have the poorest water management in the region. He said that up to now, only 5 percent of the total population is connected to a sewer network.
He cited a World Bank (WB) study wherein it is stated that 95 percent of the wastewater from households is directly transported to groundwater or to public canals and drainage systems and eventually into rivers and other water bodies. According to the said study, in Metro Manila, only 15 percent of the population is connected to the sewerage system. The study also shows that 58 percent of the groundwater is contaminated because of pollution coming from domestic and industrial wastewater.
Deaths Due to Water Pollution
“Because of water pollution and contamination, it is estimated that water pollution and poor sanitation account for one-sixth of reported disease cases, and nearly 6,000 premature deaths per year in the Philippines,” said Clemented.
According to reports, around US$134 million or PhP6 billion is lost yearly because of these illnesses and deaths from water pollution. The urban poor sector bears the brunt of the negative health and economic impacts of the pollution since they live in high risk areas.
In the meantime, the environmental activist said that the Aquino administration has neither reviewed nor changed the bankrupt economic policy and poor water management of the past administrations.
“Water resources and facilities are still being privatized. For example, water supply and sewerage services remain a private venture. The government has relegated its responsibility of providing effective and safe water supply and sanitation services in Metro Manila to private companies. Water bodies such as the Laguna Lake and the Manila Bay remain unrehabilitated. Major sources of industrial pollution such as mining, power, and oil industry remain unchecked and poorly regulated,” he said.
Clemente said that to reverse the poor water availability and extensive water pollution in the country, the government should craft laws and implement programs that will re-orient the utilization and management of our water resources primarily towards public service and needs, and not for private profit.