The hot summer is a yearly seasonal change in our country, usually starting in March and extending until May. The rainy months begin in June. With the advent of climate change, the summer season became a prolonged dry spell brought about by the so-called “El Niño” phenomenon. Its opposite, called as “La Niña” phenomenon, sets in for the rest of the year.
The two weather phenomena are predictable occurrences in our country. They are so predictable that there are templates of specific measures to address potential problem areas.
Thus, it was with great disbelief when the “El Niño” became the scapegoat of the supposed drying up of water sources of the Manila Water Co., one of the two concessionaires of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS). A retired police general, Reynaldo Velasco – who now heads the nine-man MWSS board – conceded that water security in Metro Manila indeed faces threats related to the effects of climate change. The MWSS chief noted the prolonged summer heat gave rise to such water shortage fears.
While the “El Niño” period has already started manifesting per monitoring of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), its impact would not be as immediate as to dry up the major water sources in Angat and La Mesa dams that supply the East Zone concession areas in Metro Manila.
The Ayala-owned Manila Water covers the north-eastern part of Metro Manila and Rizal while Maynilad Water Services Inc., the other concessionaire of the MWSS, run by the Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP) Group of Companies, serves the western/southern part of Metro Manila and Cavite.
Both MWSS concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad Water Corp. draw their water supply from La Mesa and Angat Dams for their consumers in Metro Manila. But Maynilad does not experience the same problem that Manila Water is having, a problem that forced the latter to resort to severe water service interruptions the past two weeks now.
As it turned out, the water shortage in the east zone of Metro Manila is not because of climate change.
Sadly, it was due to some other reasons that could have been avoided, if not mitigated.
After initially pointing to the “El Niño” effects, the ensuing water supply shortage of customers of the Manila Water, the truth finally came out coming from the mouths of the culprits themselves, the MWSS and the Manila Water.
MWSS chief regulator Patrick Ty first admitted in public it was their fault – the government – for the much delayed implementation of water dam infrastructure projects to answer for the projected growth of demand and supply of such basic commodity as potable drinking water.
In particular, Ty pointed to the P13.43-billion New Centennial Water Source – Kaliwa water dam project. It is one of the flagship projects of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to be funded through official development assistance from China. The project came about from a bilateral agreement President Duterte signed with Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2016 during his state visit to Beijing.
The Chinese government committed P10.2 billion in official development assistance (ODA) to fund the Kaliwa dam project. The balance of the total project cost will be shouldered by the MWSS out of its own resources coming from fees collected from their concessionaires – the Manila Water and the Maynilad.
Once completed and become operational by 2023, the Kaliwa Dam will provide an additional 650 million liters of water a day (mld) to augment the 4,000 mld from Angat Dam in Bulacan. Aside from Kaliwa Dam, the MWSS is also overseeing the construction of tunnels that will serve as conveyance of water coming from Laiban Dam, Wawa Dam, and the Kanan Hydroelectric Dam which is slated to be completed in 2026.
At the ensuing public hearing conducted at the House committee on Metro Manila development held last Monday, Marikina Rep. Bayani Fernando declared: “The problem is not climate change because the water is there.” From the explanation and admission of officials concerned, Fernando noted, the supply interruption resulted when the water cannot go to Cardona dam of the Manila Water. “The institutional failure of the MWSS is the construction of the tunnels to bring water to La Mesa dam,” Fernando pointed out.
Himself a mechanical engineer by profession, the Marikina Congressman suggested to the Manila Water Co. to control the distribution by installing water pressure regulators while the utility is still trying to stabilize water supply in their system.
At the same House hearing, Manila Water Co. president and chief executive officer (CEO) Ferdinand dela Cruz officially apologized and held himself personally accountable for the failure of his company to anticipate the unexpected contingency. To his credit, Dela Cruz told the congressional public hearing that he was taking responsibility: “…for the sudden drop in our service level to your constituents who we have served for 21 years.”
Supply from La Mesa Dam is Manila Water’s reserves since it has maximized allocation from Angat Dam at 1,600 mld. While the water level in La Mesa Dam dropped to critical levels due to El Niño, stocking for water added pressure due to increased demand.
For having manned up for the lapses of his company, Dela Cruz received plaudits from Congress leaders. “I admire you for your humility. But that is your biggest mistake. You admitted it. Now, you have to pay for it,” Fernando told Dela Cruz at the close of the House hearing. Fernando dissuaded though Dela Cruz who announced also his resignation, if need be. “You should not resign because you are now the best in your trade given your experience now,” he told the contrite Manila Water Co. CEO.
But that’s how the private sector business operates where CEOs – following the command responsibility principle – are ready to offer their heads in the cutting board.
As of this writing, President Duterte summoned last night to a meeting at Malacañang top officials of the MWSS who are obviously too shy to follow the lead of the Manila Water CEO by way of courtesy resignation.
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