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A city without a toilet

/ 05:05 AM September 26, 2019

Manila Bay is a cesspool because an uncaring populace dumps everything but the kitchen sink into it. And maybe that sink, too. It’s where all the shit goes, to be blunt about it, because — get this — there’s inadequate sewerage system and treatment of wastewater to talk of. What is there was built in the 1900s. No government, national or local, has bothered to do anything about it since — except talk.

President Duterte has declared that the bay will become livable again. No longer will you be Christlike, able to walk on water. But it’s a Herculean task that may be beyond resolution. It’s not just the Bay, it’s everything that feeds into it, with the Pasig River being a major source of that pollution.

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So what Gina Lopez started needs to be completed. Feeding that river is Laguna de Bay, which also needs clean-up. Then there are all the factories and people around Manila Bay, and the various feeds that go into this body of water. They must clean up their act. The magnitude of the problem is so huge that I don’t see how it can be done. Nonetheless, the attempt must still be made.

One of the biggest polluters is the metropolis. The cities of Greater Manila Area have a sewerage and wastewater treatment system that was built in the late 1950s, when the population was about 1.5 million. Today, it’s more than 15 million with only—get this—about 35 percent of households connected to a sewerage

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system. It’s a wonder there are no widespread epidemics yet with such an unhygienic environment.

In 1997, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) reached agreements with the two concessionaires to provide clean water to everyone. They did, but the agreements also required them to handle sewage and wastewater. They haven’t been able to fully comply, although some work has been done in line with the 2037 deadline agreed to.

There are two reasons why they haven’t moved faster: cost and how to do it. On cost, the concessionaires pay for it but — and it’s a huge “but” — they have to have the money to do so. That money must come from the people who will be connected to the system—us. And people scream if the cost of water goes up, unwilling to recognize the reality of having to pay for the services they get. So the MWSS, unwilling to displease, isn’t prepared to raise the fee. Where, then, can the money to do it come from?

The much larger issue, though, is the question of how. To build a modern system requires massive dislocation, as roads have to be dug up and houses relocated if the huge pipes and treatment plants are to be installed. Heaven knows traffic is disastrous enough already. With roads closed for construction (and they will have to be closed for months), you may as well forget working in Manila’s cities. You won’t even get there.

I frankly don’t see a solution to it. What I do see is that berating Manila Water and Maynilad for not providing a service won’t achieve anything. And I cannot understand how the Supreme Court can order them to pay a P1-billion fine for failing to provide the system. Did they look at the practical realities of what their order would result in, or based it strictly on a myopic reading of the contracts? Yet a Supreme Court decision in 2011 was more enlightened, and recognized that the five-year period the contracts provided was unworkable, so the period was extended to 2037.

But I don’t see how even that can be done, although given more time, the dislocation can be better managed and be less stressful on the populace. The Supreme Court needs to reverse its unrealistic decision, cancel the P1-billion fine on the two companies and revert to the earlier one. Then all the local government units and relevant departments have to cooperate, by closing off roads for the diggings and provide the land for the treatment plants and the permits to build and operate them, so that the MWSS can be effective in doing the job.

I wonder if there’s a machine like the Japanese monster that will bring a railway tunnel under Manila without dislocating the surface to bore tunnels for sewage pipes.

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But — and I’ll raise it again — we have to pay for that construction and the continuing service it will provide. Fees will have to go up.

Email: [email protected]

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TAGS: Gina Lopez, Like It Is, Manila Bay, Peter Wallace, Rodrigo Duterte, sewerage, waste water treatment
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