Senators on Tuesday reprimanded the water regulator in Metro Manila for saying it has no power to penalize a concessionaire for failure to meet its obligation to provide water supply to the east zone.
In a hearing of the public services comittee, Senate President Tito Sotto and committee chairperson Grace Poe said the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) can impose penalties against water concessionaires that fail to continuously supply water to customers. They read portions of the concession agreement that contradict a remark of MWSS Chief Regulator Patrick Ty during a House of Representatives hearing on Monday.
“Nagulat din ako kasi you should know your rules at the back of your hand. It seems to me you’re not verse with your own regulations,” Poe said.
Ty apologized for his “failure to articulate” his point.
He clarified that his office can slap penalties against Manila Water Company, Inc. for violating its mandate to provide water 24 hours a day. He said the possible penalty can be imposed through a rebate to its 1.2 million customers.
Ty said MWSS will come up with a decision on the possible penalty either in June or July.
“We can do that and we are studying it right now. We are actually studying the amount of penalty that will be imposed, which can be rebated. Pwedeng magkaroon ng rebate dahil dito, subject to proper process,” he said.
Ty said they don’t need to wait for the 2022 rate rebasing before they study the issue as the service interruption is an “unprecedented situation.” He said, however, they may still look into the matter either in June or July as they want to focus on fixing the water supply and at the same time observe due process.
He was was noncommittal, though, if MWSS will slap Manila Water with fines.
For his part, Manila Water President and CEO Ferdinand dela Cruz said he has instructed company officials to explore ways to provide some relief to those affected by the service interruption starting March 6 through adjustments in the water bill.
“We will make sure this will not take long,” he told the Senate committee.
Article 10, Section 10.4 of the concessionaire contract states: “A failure by the Concessionaire to meet any Service Obligation which continues for more than 60 days (or 15 days in cases where the failure could adverely affect public health or welfare) after written notice thereof from the Regulatory Office to the Concessionaire shall constitute a basis for the Regulatory Office to assesss financial penalties against the Concessionaire.”
The lawmakers raised other issues concerning MWSS and Manila Water.
Senator Joel Villanueva pointed out the regulator’s lack of civil engineer, which he said could have led to the water crisis.
MWSS Administrator Reynaldo Velasco said the regulatory board is composed of two retired military officials, six lawyers and a chemical engineer.
“I think the lack of a civil or sanitation engineer in the board is one of the reasons why we are in this situation now. Kung mag-aapply nga tayo sa trabaho, hinahanapan tayo ng sapat na qualifications bago kuhanin ng kumpanya,” Villanueva said.
“Dapat pong masunod ang itinakda sa batas na naglalahad ng sapat na qualifications ng MWSS Board,” he added.
(Translation: In fact, when we apply for a job, the company looks for adequate qualifications before us. We should follow the law that states the qualifications of MWSS Board.)
Poe believes that MWSS committed graver negligence than Manila Water, saying the regulator should have anticipated the water shortage.
“Sa tingin ko di rin nila ginagawa trabaho nila. … Ako, sa tingin ko dapat palitan na sila (I think they’re not doing their job. … I think they should be replaced,” she said.
Meanwhile, Senator Ping Lacson questioned the fee that Manila Water has been charging customers for the Cardona Water Treatment Plant in Rizal since 2015. The facility has not been operational until today.
“Isn’t that an irony na ‘yung cause ng (that the cause of) water crisis na pinagdudusahan ng mga taga-Mandaluyong sinisingil nyo pa buwan-buwan (has burdened the people in Mandaluyong, and yet you still charge them monthly),” the senator asked.
Lacson further asked Manila Water how much it is collecting for the Cardona project, but the concessionaire failed to give an answer.
“Part of the things that we plan on doing is kung pwede (if possible), this month ‘wag mag-charge muna (don’t charge yet),” Ty said.
Velasco considered Manila Water’s failure to finish the treatment plant in December last year as a major cause of the water shortage.
“If that was running in December 2018, we would not need to draw water from La Mesa Dam,” Velasco said.
Poe said Manila Water should refund to customers the amount collected for the plant since 2015.