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The MWSS emerges from excess

Government service is sacrifice. The duty of being a public servant requires courage and heart to leave the silence and comfort of private life.

The baseless accusations and lies that have been recently coming out in the media in connection with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System will not distract me from a vocation and call that I have said yes to. I will address all of them:

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1. Three counts for not replying to the labor union’s letter of request to grant MWSS benefits and bonuses within 15 days upon receipt of the complaint (it wanted the anniversary bonus, midyear financial assistance, productivity incentive bonus, yearend financial assistance bonus).

2. Three counts for the alleged unauthorized use of a government vehicle (a consultant was fetched from Ateneo de Manila University for an MWSS meeting).

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3. Two counts for grave abuse of discretion for temporarily allowing two jeepney operators to use our front vacant lot as temporary terminal (a temporary consideration I gave to relieve Katipunan of traffic congestion).

4. One count for paying 21 college students 75 percent, instead of 60 percent, of the minimum wage, when we approved their internship application through the program recognized by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

5. Three counts for the hiring, without public bidding, of consultants whose salaries allegedly range from P50,000 to P400,000 (the consultants received no more than P50,000 monthly under a six-month contract with the approval of the MWSS board and the Governance Commission for government-owned and -controlled corporations, which was created in 2011).

I write to share facts, modest gains and accomplishments in three areas of reform—organization, delivery of long overdue water infrastructure, and the process of water rates determination.

FACT: The MWSS came from excess and a mistaken sense of entitlement. This was shown through bonuses arbitrarily given to the former governing board, officers and employees. These were illegal and unconscionably obscene, and resulted in the MWSS declaring a negative P34 million income in 2010.

GAIN: We have eradicated most of the excesses, if not all, and have turned around the agency to a positive net income of P334 million in 2011. We remitted P150 million in dividends in 2012 and, just recently, gave P345 million to the national treasury. BUT dividends and financials will not be our legacy.

ACCOMPLISHMENT: Studies since the 1970s have recommended infrastructure improvements in our water supply network. In response, the MWSS launched its Water Security Legacy Program in 2011 with the primary objective of securing the long-term supply of water for the 15 million residents of Metro Manila. The New Centennial Water Source Project will be an alternate source of water for Metro Manila, to supplement Angat Dam. The Bulacan Bulk Water Supply Project will provide water to municipalities in the province of Bulacan. The Angat Water Transmission Improvement Project will fortify our decades-old transmission lines. These projects will be bid out within the next few months.

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FACT: The MWSS is now in the middle of the rate rebasing processes where the water concessionaires’ proposed rates are being reviewed in minute detail. There have been repeated questions from consumers in the past years that will be satisfactorily answered. The public has been involved in the transparent process. The water rates will be published soon.

I have pushed for the reorganization of the MWSS. This is a source of conflict with the labor union. It is my strong position that the MWSS must regain its responsibility as the guardian of water security for Metro Manila and not delegate everything to the two water concessionaires. Forty percent of GDP is from Metro Manila, and lapses in decisions and nonforward thinking will have serious consequences to our economy and national security.

The MWSS is an agency with an important role in nation-building and we must have the manpower to engage, to protect, and to deliver. While we are primarily an engineering institution, the composition of our existing 126 manpower is biased for support and administrative services (1 technical is to 1.33 support wherein it should be 1 technical is to .78 support).

The MWSS will not be freed from the trap of complacency and entitlement without painful reform. We cannot afford to sacrifice the lives of 15 million consumers for a handful of selfish employees that corrode the essence of service.

I continue to focus on and work for a water security legacy way beyond our generation. What we do and do not do in the MWSS will affect the lives of millions of Filipinos we will serve in the years to come. Organizational collapse was evident way before my term started. I have repeatedly told the MWSS that we are public servants and no better than the teachers, soldiers, and personnel of the Commission on Audit, Department of Budget and Management, and other public servants. We do not deserve special treatment.

There will always be resistance, pain and sacrifice. But I know that there will be redemption in the end.

Have these baseless accusations and lies dissuaded me from public service? On the contrary, these secured it. Reform is never easy.

Gerardo A.I. Esquivel is the administrator of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System.

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TAGS: Commentary, Gerardo A.I. Esquivel, Graft and Corruption, MWSS, opinion
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