Water Water Everywhere But Not a Drop to Drink

Water rationing has been announced again in Metro Manila. The root of the problems being faced by Metro Manila's residents today can be traced back to the 1976 Metro Manila Development Plan being junked for no valid reason other than that it was the brainchild of Marcos' technocrats.

After the debate over the transport or traffic crisis, now comes the next about water. Metro Manila residents woke up one day to an announcement from Manila Water that rationing would be effected because the Angat Dam had reached its critical level. The lack of rains was the culprit. What followed was the usual finding fault process among government officials and that of the private water concessionaires. Fines were imposed and officials were fired but the issue died a natural death because the reservoir had been filled and supply was back to normal. 

Or so it seemed. Now the debate is raging again because the rainy season has again been delayed due to climate change. No major typhoon has made landfall and it is already November. Angat is again at a critical level and water rationing has been announced again. You would think that the lessons would've been learned but this is not the case. 

Government has been suffering from a dearth of qualified technocrats for the past 33 years. As early as 1978, the Marcos administration completed the plans to augment Metro Manila's water supply with the construction of the Kaliwa Dam in Laiban, Quezon. This was 10 years after Angat in Bulacan was commissioned. Metro Manila's population was growing at a fast clip and the technocrats then deemed it prudent to stay ahead of the demand curve - better to have more than enough water than to have a shortage. 

The Sierra Madre mountain range with its forest cover has traditionally been the source of the capital's water supply. The Americans built Wawa Dam in what was then Montalban, Rizal. The dam was commissioned in 1903. It was abandoned even if water still flowed freely and had the effect of causing flooding downstream in what became the cities of Marikina and Pasig with the Marikina River supposedly emptying into the Manggahan Floodway. The flooding caused by Tropical Storm Ondoy in 2009 could've been averted if only the Floodway construction ran its entire length through Parañaque and emptying into Manila Bay. This was another discontinued project after Marcos was ousted in 1986. 

The 1976 Metro Manila Development Plan was envisioned to catapult the country's extended capital area into the modern age. The political structure was reconfigured and provisions had been made to address the basic needs of its residents. By far, the root of the problems being faced by Metro Manila's residents today can be traced back to this plan being junked for no valid reason other than that it was the brainchild of Marcos' technocrats. It is a trivial reason but this hasn't stopped our politicians from from being so at the expense of the public. 

The water concessionaires also share some of the blame because of their failure to build what was planned as the new water source for the projected increase in demand for water. Maynilad was hit hard by the 1997 Asian financial crisis but its principal's closeness to the powers that be at that time allowed it to keep the concession until such time a white knight could be found to buy them out. 

The concession agreement is nothing more than a rent-seeking activity because every expense is charged to the consumers. There is no capital expenditure on the part of the concessionaires because they are allowed to factor in the same in the monthly billing of its customers. It doesn't help also that government regulatory agencies allow the concessionaires to have their way. Rene Almendras was President & CEO of Maynilad before he was appointed Cabinet Secretary during the Aquino administration. He is now the President & CEO of Manila Water. 

The leftist-liberal groups composed mostly of the front organizations of the CPP/NPA/NDF are now leading the opposition to the construction of the Kaliwa Dam which has been included as one of the Duterte administration's priority infrastructure projects under Build Build Build. The President has threatened to rescind the concession agreements should the concessionaires continue to be intransigent in addressing the water supply shortage. What is unfortunate is how Metro Manila's residents are bearing the brunt of the lack of water while the parties involved engage in bickering and posturing over what is supposed to be a basic need of survival.

What is left unanswered is when the Kaliwa Dam project will actually begin construction. Climate change cannot be reversed while the demand for water continues to outstrip what supply is available. The quality of life of Metro Manila's long-suffering residents continues to deteriorate all because of the lack of political will and the prevalence of politicking. 

About the Author
RG is a seasoned international trade and sales and marketing professional who also dabbles in writing. He was a contributor to Business World in the mid-90s and is also a tech geek.
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