By Nora O. Gamolo
The Aquino government should now junk water privatization in the light of the United Nations’ (UN) recent resolution declaring water and sanitation as a right, according to water advocacy group Water for the People Network (WPN).
WPN is a nationwide multi-sectoral alliance of various groups in the Philippines campaigning for people’s control over their water resources.
On July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution affirming that everyone has the right to clean drinking water and proper sanitation. Filipinos found it ironic that the resolution was passed in the tail-end of a severe water crisis that gripped Metro Manila.
According to WPN, the recent Philippine water shortage only shows that privatization violates the human right to water, and that shortages are a direct result of privatization of water resources and utilities.
The privatization of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), and the awarding of water distribution rights to two private water concessionaires are blamed for the water shortage. The concessionaires were given the task to operate and manage the facilities, while MWSS preserved the ownership of the infrastructure, financed through revenues provided by the concessionaires.
WPN urges the Aquino government to junk current privatization projects such as the Angat Dam, and instead conduct a review of major privatization projects like the MWSS.
The UN General Assembly approved on July 28 the resolution recognizing access clean water and sanitation as a basic human right, citing concern for around 884 million people worldwide without access to water.
With the passage of the resolution, the UN called on governments to scale up efforts in ensuring clean, safe, adequate water especially in poor countries.
The WPN said that in the Philippines, the privatization of public water utilities has worsened the people’s access to water, adding that 16 out of 100 families in all income classes do not have access to safe water.
In Metro Manila, water rates have also continued to increase since the privatization of the MWSS, with the two private firms increasing their basic charges by 449% (Maynilad) and 845% (Manila Water).
The group added that less than 60% of Maynilad’s service area in the west zone has 24-hour water service, while Manila Water claims 99% water supply coverage in the east zone, but does not distinguish areas with direct household connection from those serviced by private water suppliers.
According to the group the recent water shortage in Metro Manila should challenge the Aquino administration to urgently reverse the privatization process in water that benefited only the private water corporations and elite families in the country.
On the other hand, privatization and the need to assure financing of a government-owned and controlled corporation have only increased the burden of poor Filipinos with excessive user rates and deficient service.
During his first-ever State of the Nation Address, no less than President Simeon Benigno Aquino III has criticized the hefty salaries, allowances and other perks received by the top MWSS bureaucrats, while people had to contend with increasing water rates amid crisis severe water lack.
The high water rates has also encouraged some people in the concession areas to tap the water lines illegally, thus adding to the massive system losses whose cost are passed on to their paying customers.
The UN resolution should also prompt the government to take more seriously its responsibility of providing adequate and affordable water for the poor, and this could be started by reviewing the MWSS privatization deal and the concession it has awarded to its two private concessionaires, the WPN said.
In April, WPN has challenged candidates for the presidential position to prove that they are not beholden to big business interests by issuing a categorical statement that they will not allow the privatization of the Angat Dam and undermine people’s access to water.
The group issued the statement as the deadline for the submission of bids for the 246-megawatt (MW) Angat Hydroelectric Power Plant (HEPP) ends today.
The WPN noted that among the interested buyers of the Angat HEPP are some of the most politically influential business groups in the country and perceived backers of some presidential candidates.
These top business groups included Danding Cojuangco’s San Miguel Corp., the Lopez family’s First Gen Corp., the Ayala Group, Manny Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Corp., Aboitiz Power Corp., and the Consunji’s DMCI Power Corp.
“We need an assurance, especially from the leading presidential contenders, that they will protect the human right to water and not the private business interests wanting to control Angat Dam’s hydropower facilities. Whoever controls the hydropower facilities controls the flow and allocation of water from the dam,” the WPN said.
According to the WPN, the issue of people’s access to water for basic uses will be a recurring problem that the next administration will face, based on scientific studies.
The group said that droughts, such as the current El Niño, will be more intense due to climate change, and this will limit further available freshwater supply for domestic and industrial use and irrigation.
The group added that the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM), the body tasked to privatize Angat Dam, should not rush its privatization and at least wait until a new president takes over. Angat Dam is the main source of Metro Manila’s water supply.
“Aside from its serious impact on people’s access to water, the privatization will also be conducted in the thick of the elections. It is for the interest of everyone that the PSALM exercises due prudence and allow the next administration to decide on the fate of Angat Dam,” said the group.
The group said that the privatization of the Angat HEPP will undermine the access to water for basic domestic use of some 14 million consumers in Metro Manila and several towns in the provinces of Rizal and Cavite.
Privatizing it will also threaten the use of water from Angat Dam for the irrigation needs of some 28,000 farmers in the provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga.
As an alternative, WPN proposed that government’s water agencies take the lead in managing the facilities of the Angat Dam with sufficient mechanisms that will allow multi-stakeholder participation.
WPN insisted that aside from the water concessionaires, other stakeholders like consumers, farmers, non-government organizations, and concerned local government units should be involved in the management of Angat Dam.