“While countries abroad are reversing their privatization schemes, we are selling these services at a bargain despite its inimical costs to our people.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – For six months now, an urban poor community in Navotas has finally gotten access to potable water. But at a steep price.
Lina Gentulizon, 58, and her family have been living in the community near the fish port in Navotas for several years now. They have long wanted to get their own water line in their home but instead, Maynilad, a water distributor company, provided their community with bulk water selling scheme.
Under the scheme, Maynilad would sell water to a local organization in charge of the project at some $0.42 per cubic meter. The local group who would shoulder the maintenance and other operating expenses, would resell it to residents at $0.84.
Gentulizon could not afford the rates. One of her five children who now supports her daily needs does not have a decent income as a batilyo (fish port worker). Instead, they buy water from their neighbors at $0.07 per pail of water or $1 for a drum of water.
They have repeatedly asked Maynilad to provide them with individual water lines. Residents launched protest actions in front of the water company’s office but to no avail. “Maynilad said they are already giving us an inexpensive rate. But Madam Rose,” referring to Rose Nartates of Courage, “told us that they are not.”
Aside from paying the water they consume, residents who availed of the bulk water selling scheme also need to cough up money to pay for the generation losses. In other communities such as in Vitas, Tondo in Manila, Gentulizon said local groups are heavily indebted to Maynilad. Yet, she added, the water distribution company continues this scheme even if they know that it is not effective.
“In our last consultation with them, they finally told us that only those who are regular employees of the fish port may avail of the individual water system metering, not all of us,” she said.
But now, their conditions and poor access to affordable water supply is about to get worse with Senate Bill 2997 or the Water Sector Reform Act, which, according to the government employees’ union, would push for the full privatization of the water sector.
“Who would not be dismayed by our president? Is he planning to privatize everything? What would happen to the welfare of the poor?” Gentulizon wants to know.
Senate bill 2997
In his explanatory note, Sen. Edgardo Angara, proponent of the Water Sector Reform Act, said there is a need to institutionalize the Integrated Water Resources Management approach, adding that this step would focus on reforming the water industry in the country’s water use on irrigation, agriculture, fisheries, power generation, industrial, among others and not just another layer of regulation.
“The bill also emphasizes that Public Private Partnership (PPP) of water and sanitation services may be the step in the right direction toward securing uninterrupted, adequate, quality and dependable water services for everyone,” Angara said.
The bill’s declaration of policy also states that it would provide “incentives to and a predictable regulatory environment for investors,” which would guarantee “a reasonable return on their investments.”
“To foster competition among existing and future Water Service Providers to maintain price stability conducive to a balanced and sustainable growth of the industry,” one of the objectives of the bill read.
His explanatory noted added that, “Water is a human right. But it is also an economic good. And in order to ensure that every Filipino has access to quality and consistent water service, the State has to re-align its policies on how the industry should be run.”
But government employees doubt that the privatization of water services will benefit the Filipino people. On July 18, 2012, simultaneous protest actions were held in various parts of the country such as in Iloilo, Bacolod, Davao, Zamboanga and Cotabato City.
Water System Employees’ Response national president Rudy Aranjuez said they aim to show their “collective opposition to Senate Bill 2997 and House Bill 5497 or the Water Sector Industry Reform Act of 2012.”
Layoffs, quality of water
Aranjuez said the privatization of water districts would affect at least 15,000 employees nationwide.
Eric Avanzado, an employee of San Pablo City Water District and vice president for Luzon of Water System Employees ‘ Response, told Bulatlat.com that government agencies that were privatized laid off some of their employees, citing the case of the MWSS.
He added that they are also worried that private companies will implement incessant increases in water rates. As in the case of San Pablo City Water District, Avanzado said, they conduct public consultations should there be a need to increase the rates. But if the people disagreed, they would defer the increases. He expressed his reservations about whether private companies would be as considerate as they are to the people.
“The quality of water might even suffer because of these companies desire to rake in profit,” Avanzado said, “The government’s control would be gone if we allow this bill to be passed.”
Courage vice president Santi Dasmarinas Jr. said the country had enough bad experiences with privatization of basic services such as power, water supply in the National Capital Region, the deregulation of the oil industry, among others.
“It is high time that the government rethink and reverses its policy directions. Public employees have been fighting against privatization to defend our jobs and public services,” Dasmarinas said.
Access to water is a right
“Life springs from water and it should never become a business,” Avanzado said.
He added that the proposed legislations to privatize the water services would “concentrate the properties, resources and water sources management of provinces to only one private company which would result to a monopoly.”
Avanzado also expressed his concerns over the welfare of the environment, the peasants and the indigenous peoples as private control over the water sources can easily eject people from their homes. He urged the government to provide more subsidy instead of privatization “to make water more accessible and affordable to all.”
“While countries abroad are reversing their privatization schemes, we are selling these services at a bargain despite its inimical costs to our people,” Avanzado said.
Aside from the water services, Dasmarinas said, the government is also planning to privatize other social services such the proposed decoupling or separation of its trading and regulatory functions of the National Food Authority, the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would allow the private sector to build socialized housing projects, corporatization of government hospitals and abolition of other government agencies such as the Department Agrarian Reform, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Gentulizon, for her part, said that she is dismayed with the two years of President Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III in office. “Who would not be dismayed when all government agencies are now private? What will happen to us?”