House members wash hands on water consumers’ plight

Last July 31, we witnessed first-hand the congressional concern for suffering water consumers of Metro Manila. Chaired by Rep. Jerry P. Treñas, the House committee on good government and public accountability held a hearing about the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS). Scheduled for 9 a.m., the meeting started past 10 a.m. and adjourned quickly after 11 a.m., after the chair declared that this was not the proper committee for this, then referring the matter to the committee on government enterprises.

If this was the fourth hearing called by the Treñas committee regarding MWSS matters, why wasn’t “proper committee coverage” questioned at the very first hearing?  Was it because no less than President Aquino noted how MWSS trustees of the Arroyo administration had paid themselves some P2.5 million each annually in various compensation packages, which made this an issue of good government and public accountability?  This was the exposé that made for big headlines for the first State of the Nation Address of P-Noy in 2010.  Clearly, the MWSS shenanigans should be a concern of this committee.

Additional hearings led to the compilation of a more comprehensive report by Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy of the Bagong Henerasyon party-list on the 1997 privatization of MWSS.  Submitted to the Congress plenary before P-Noy’s 2011 Sona, the report detailed over a dozen specific anomalies of the MWSS and its two concessionaires, Maynilad Water Service Inc. (MWSI) and Manila Water Co. Inc. (MWCI), following the 1997 privatization that has led to a tenfold-increase in water rates.  The report also cited sub-par performance as to the deliverables of the concession agreements. Water delivery efficiency was nowhere near the 100-percent Metro Manila coverage and less than 25 percent of the contracted sewerage projects required by 2007.  This clearly represents a threat to the health of Metro Manila residents—but it doesn’t seem to concern the congressmen in this committee.

At yesterday’s hearing, consumer groups present were openly scoffing at the answers of MWSS officials to the questions of Representative Dy. When it was mentioned that a case for syndicated estafa had in fact been filed by Water for All Refund Movement Inc. (WARM) against MWSS, MWSI and MWCI, Treñas and his two “compatriots,” Rep. Carlo Nograles and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, quickly washed the committee’s hands of this issue and moved to adjourn the session. It must be because none of the three congressmen are from Metro Manila: they weren’t betraying their Iloilo, Davao and Cagayan de Oro constituents.