Not too long ago, we drank water from our faucets, and it was all right. We who are members of the generations that grew up until the ’90s drank tap water, and we all turned out okay.
There were no outbreaks of serious diarrheal diseases blamed on our water system. And yet we woke up one day with our minds instilled with fear that we would become victims of water-borne illnesses if we didn’t ditch the habit of drinking from our faucets, and instead turned to bottled water to quench our thirst.
The fear that was implanted in our minds gave birth to a hugely profitable business created out of thin air (mixed with a dash of hydrogen to form water). This year alone, bottled water companies will earn P144 billion in total revenues. This reveals that Filipino consumers are impelled by fear to set aside P144 billion of their income to spend for an artificial basic necessity: bottled water.
In a March 2018 survey by Social Weather Stations, 9.8 million families, or 42 percent of all families in our country, considered themselves poor. The survey respondents answered that, to be considered not poor, their families needed a monthly income of P20,000 for residents in Metro Manila, P10,000 for Balance Luzon and Visayas, and P15,000 in Mindanao.
The modest income aspirations of many families reveal that the expenditure for bottled water as an added basic necessity reduces their already meager budget. That a gallon of filtered water is now a common fixture in modest homes shows that bottled water has become a basic necessity even for struggling families.
In contrast, businesspersons engaged in the bottled water business are earning huge profits accumulated from deductions in the meager income of toiling families.
The bottled water business generates minimal employment, because all it needs is equipment to filter water from the faucet and to bottle them in plastic containers. It’s a business that contributes minimal jobs to our country, but it’s raking in vast profits for the entrenched rich.
If tubong lugaw (profit from rice porridge) is the colloquial term for a business that makes a stream of easy profit, those engaged in the bottled water business even have it better, because it is tubong tubig (profit from water) for them.
The water utility companies that serve Metro Manila and its surroundings, Maynilad and Manila Water, both guarantee that their pipes supply safe drinking water. But the tiny effort they exert to publicize this assurance virtually amounts to a conspiratorial silence to allow bottled water companies to flourish.
The Duterte administration should compel these public utilities to make repeated and well-publicized assurances that their regular tests confirm that their pipes supply safe drinking water. These companies and the government should also embark on a joint project to provide tests and assistance to households with old water pipes that may affect water quality. The additional costs these advertisements and consumer services will entail are immaterial to the utility companies, because they have guaranteed profit of up to 12 percent on top of all costs which they charge to consumers.
The provincial water districts present a different story. Many of them supply water that are unsafe for drinking. Those who recklessly manage these water districts deserve a tongue-lashing from the President, and cases should be filed against them, if warranted. But those that genuinely need help to upgrade their facilities should receive government assistance, because the benefit redounds to entire communities freed from the necessity of buying expensive bottled water.
Our dependence on bottled water worsens poverty, and it presents a perfect illustration of why we have a dysfunctional society where the rich are getting richer while the poor remain stuck in poverty. Here’s an opportunity for the government to address this worsening economic anomaly.
The human body consists of 60-percent water. Clean drinking water must not be a costly luxury, but an affordable basic necessity.
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