As I See It

Water firms illegally collecting fees

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Do you know that our two water distributors, Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services, are collecting from all of us, the consumers, the future costs of two multibillion-peso projects, the P45.3-billion Laiban Dam and the P5.4-billion Angat Dam Irrigation Replacement Project? They are included in our monthly water bills although we have not yet incurred them. In short, the water concessionaires are making us pay in advance for them. Instead of investing in the projects, the water concessionaires are making the public the investors themselves, paying in advance for the projects.

I would like to emphasize that the water being sold by the distributors to the public are supplied to them, free, by the government. The distribution pipes are also free. They were already in place when they took over the concessions. All they had to do was to collect the monthly bills.

What makes it worse is that the projects have been discontinued and, in the case of the Laiban Dam, totally and officially cancelled and abandoned. Yet the water distributors continue to collect the amounts from us. To date, the collections amount to P6 billion. This will continue to increase as the distributors continue to collect the amounts from us every month.

The water Regulatory Office (RO) found the collections unwarranted and illegal, and recommended to the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) that the collections be refunded to the consuming public. Acting on the RO recommendation, the MWSS board of trustees ordered the two distributors to refund the collections to their consumers.

But Maynilad and Manila Water “conspired and confederated” to deny the said orders and, “thereupon, wrongfully, unlawfully, illegally and criminally misappropriate for themselves the collection P6 billion,” (which amount continues to increase as the collections are continuing up to this day), according to a complaint for syndicated estafa filed by a group of consumers. The group calls itself the Water for All Refund Movement.

Complainants duly made proper and valid demands upon the distributors to immediately refund the P6 billion. The concessionaires, however, refused to obey the orders of the MWSS and the RO, and the demand of the consumers group to refund the P6 billion they have illegally collected from the public.

“Clearly, by their deceitful, unlawful and illegal acts and omissions,” said the complainants, “respondents constituted themselves as a syndicate in committing the crime of syndicated estafa … as they acted in conspiracy with each other and mutually helped one another in the pursuit of the collections and misappropriation of the P6 billion.” Named defendants are the officers of Maynilad headed by Manuel V. Pangilinan and the officers of Manila Water headed by the Zobel de Ayala brothers and Delfin L. Lazaro.

Do you also know that the water distributors collect from the consuming public “sewerage fees” although they provide no sewerage services to them? The majority of homes and buildings in their concession areas are not even connected to sewer lines and have to depend on septic tanks for the disposal of their wastes. Yet Maynilad and Manila Water collected and are continuing to collect “sewerage fees” from their consumers. Clearly, these illegal collections should also be refunded.

If you will recall, the Supreme Court recently ordered Meralco to refund to their consumers overcollections it has accumulated. Meralco has started refunding those amounts.

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Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas has rightfully put his foot down on the illegal resurrection of 489 bus franchises that used to belong to the defunct Pantranco. He has cancelled them. Not only have these franchises expired a long time ago, the slots have already been awarded to other bus companies. So where will you put the additional 489 buses in the already crowded streets of Metro Manila? The bus franchises have routes from Northern and Central Luzon to Metro Manila.

Yet the former workers of Pantranco, to whom the franchises have been awarded, are still trying to pressure Roxas to change his mind. The workers then sold the franchises to the family of the biggest bus operators in Luzon who own several bus companies.

In the first place, I don’t think franchises should be sold or transferred. Otherwise, you would have influential persons cornering franchises and selling them to parties who are not qualified for the franchises. Influential individuals who got logging concessions sold them later to other loggers.

Why did you sell the franchises to a big bus operator? the workers were asked.

“Because we cannot operate them ourselves,” they answered.

Right there the workers are admitting that they are not qualified to be awarded the franchises. One of the qualifications needed of a franchise applicant is that he should be capable of operating a bus line. If you cannot, then you are not qualified to the franchise.

The workers said the franchises were awarded to them by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).

I don’t think the NLRC has any authority to award bus franchises. That is the exclusive jurisdiction of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). The NLRC’s jurisdiction is labor cases. If it wanted Pantranco management to pay its workers, it should have ordered it to pay them in cash, not with bus franchises.

When the NLRC awarded bus franchises out of its jurisdiction, then the awards were void. When the workers sold the franchises, then the sale was also void.

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