"We can live without electricity for weeks, even months, but not without water."
The current water shortage crisis in Metro Manila is now the subject of inquiry by Congress. Manila Water officials are blaming everybody and everything else but themselves for the scarcity of this basic need in our daily lives. We can live without electricity for weeks, even months, but not without water.
It’s hard to believe that the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,000-plus islands surrounded by water is suffering from shortage of this essential commodity. Middle East countries with most areas covered by desert do not have this problem. Because their leaders are creative, they haul large blocks of ice from the North Pole and ship them to water-parched countries. You may say it’s because they have the money from their oil fields to do so. But we also have money from taxpayers to source water from the seas and rivers in the country.
“I have been a lone voice in the wilderness shouting and warning about the looming water crisis but no one was listening,” said Buhay Party-List Rep. Lito Atienza, the former Manila mayor and one-time Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources recalled. Now that the water crisis is real and staring us in our collective unwashed faces, everyone wants to get into the act, Atienza added.
Atienza suggested that the first thing Senator Grace Poe, who heads the Senate public service committee, should ask when she opens the hearing is “Nakaligo na ba kayo?”
Grace Poe is a reelectionist for senator and there are concerns she might use the hearing as a platform to campaign. The same thing could happen in the House hearing. Atienza urged the senators and his colleagues in the House to go the root of the problem and to legislate long-term solutions to address it instead of grandstanding.
What might be considered draconian, said Atienza, is that he might file a case in the Supreme Court for the government to withdraw the licenses granted to Manila Water and Maynilad to operate for non-delivery of service. The government itself can perform this essential public service utility like in the old days of the Nawasa or the National Water and Sewerage Administration,” according to Atienza. This is not going to endear him to business tycoons the Ayalas and Manny Pangilinan who operate Manila Water and Maynilad, respectively.
Atienza also reiterated his call for the cleanup of Laguna de Bay as he recalled the unwarranted act of former President Noynoy Aquino to cancel the government with with a Belgian company to dredge Laguna de Bay. The Philippine government lost its P2.6 billion case and is now paying the Belgian firm billion of pesos for breach of contract. The big lake, if cleaned up, could have been a source of water for household needs. But the interests of big-time fishpen owners was taken into account more than the people’s, Lito lamented as he expressed doubts whether Senate or congressional hearings would amount to anything, He merely smiled when I mentioned the word “amount,” probably not wanting to make more enemies from his peers in the house.
Most severely affected by the water shortage are Department of Health hospitals whose services are mostly to the poor. Handwashing with hot warm water prior to surgical operations is a requirement aside from alcohol and chemical disinfectants. Patients and nurses have to wash before and after operations and even other minor treatment of patients.
Atienza noted sadly that out of the 144 billion cubic feet of water the country has, only 24 billion cu. ft is used annually by consumers. The rest is wasted, he said, citing figures at hand when he was DENR secretary. Unfortunately Atienza only had a brief stint as DENR secretary at the near end of his co-terminus appointment by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
If reelected as Buhay Party-List representative in the May 13 midterm elections, Atienza vowed he would pursue his advocacy for environment and water conservation as public service.