Thursday, January 21, 2021

Fund for cleanup may be wasteful


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The rehabilitation program for Manila Bay is set to receive P1.35 billion in 2020, according to a recent statement from Buhay party-list Rep. Jose “Lito” Atienza, who expressed misgivings about this measure. We urge lawmakers to review this allocation carefully before passing next year’s national Budget. Unless there are adequate measures to address the source of pollution, that money, as they say, will go down the drain.

For the record, we are for cleaning up Manila Bay. In fact, we support similar programs to clean up and rehabilitate our polluted rivers, lakes and other coastal areas. But any cleanup effort will be a waste of time and money if we do not attend to the source of pollution first. Think about your sink overflowing. Before mopping the floor, you should turn off the faucet first.

In his statement, Mr. Atienza argued that the rehabilitation program of Manila Bay would be ineffective, unless we stop untreated wastewater from getting into the bay in the first place. He went on to say that the government should compel Manila Water Company Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. to build the sewerage treatment infrastructure along the river systems that empty into Manila Bay. They are required to do so by law.

Just in August, the Supreme Court voted 14-0 to uphold the nearly P2 billion in fines against those two water concessionaires and their regulator, the Metropolitan
Waterworks and Sewerage System, for violating the Clean Water Act. That law, formally known as Republic Act 9275, mandates Manila Water and Maynilad to build the sewer lines by May 2009 or five years after the passage of the Clean Water Act. And until they comply, the concessionaires and MWSS will continue to be fined P322,102 daily plus interest. That fine escalates 10 percent in two years, said Atienza who was formerly mayor of Manila and secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Maynilad and Manila appear too big and powerful to be bothered by this, however. As Mr. Atienza said, nothing has changed. “Right now, the bulk of Metro Manila’s raw sewage, including those from households, still drains into the Pasig River and other waterways that all empty out into Manila Bay.”

No valid reason

We see no logical or acceptable explanation for the non-compliance of Manila Water and Maynilad. They have been collecting fees from consumers for the construction of sewer lines, some reports say to the tune of about P60 billion. Even if the concessionaires dispute that amount, there is no way around the law. The Supreme Court decision last month makes that clear. The question now is, what we are going to do about it?

Maynilad and Manila Water are two of the biggest companies in the Philippines. To say that they cannot afford to comply with the law is simply unacceptable. They make loads of money from the privilege of running a monopoly in their respective service areas in Metro Manila. Where is the public outrage?

The longer we remain silent, the greater our suffering. Failure to effectively address the pollution problem in Manila Bay carries a tremendous opportunity cost, not to mention P1.35 billion more in actual expense as proposed in the 2020 budget. That money could be better spent on relocating informal settlers living along the Pasig River.
They are a major source of untreated wastewater after all.

Imagine that a small island like Boracay can draw millions of tourists annually and contribute significantly to the GDP. If only Manila Bay was clean enough for swimming and other water sports, for fishing and more tourism activities. And when we say Manila Bay, we should think about the whole thing. Remember that the bay has a coastline that stretches about 190 kilometers and covers an area of nearly 2,000 square kilometers.

Cleaning up Boracay required political will. We now need the same resolve for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay. There is still hope, if only we use common sense in our policymaking and muster the courage to confront corporate greed.



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