August 15 - August 21, 2005

Ike Señeres

A very serious sewerage crisis

More than 85 percent of the people in Metro Manila do not have access to sewerage services, according to the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB). If you are already scandalized by that figure, brace yourself, because the national percentage could even be worst, because the sewerage infra outside the metropolis is almost near zero.

Last week, I wrote about the need to revive the career system in the government service, and just to segue a little bit, I think that the failure of the national infra could be directly traced to the absence of career executives who could have planned and managed this whole process from day one of our national independence.

Looking at all the other progressive countries in the world, we could clearly see that almost always, “waterworks” and “sewerage” are planned and managed together like bacon and eggs. The reason for this is very simple, and that is because these two “processes” are just two sides of the same coin, interconnected in one supply chain.

It appears that when the Manila Waterworks & Sewerage System (MWSS) was sold to the Lopez and Ayala families, the government was somehow gypped, because the sewerage component was not included in the deal, and so the government was left holding the bag with a problem that it could not solve.

Following the policy logic in most other progressive countries, the producer of the water (the waterworks system) should also be responsible for cleaning the dirty water (flowing through the sewerage system) before feeding back the resulting clean water into the natural environment.

The truth of the matter is, in most other progressive countries, sewerage is considered as an opportunity and not as a problem, because it is a very good source of revenues earned for services rendered by the local government units (LGUs). In more ways than one, the fees collected could be practically considered as taxes already, being compulsory to everyone.

As I understand it, the legal personality or corporate shell of MWSS was not really sold to the private sector, because only the rights to operate the facilities were sold. It is unclear to me whether the private companies were compelled to operate the sewerage component as well, but I get the impression that it is really up to them whether they would like to do it or not.

While it is clear to me that the assets of MWSS are still owned by the government, it is not clear to me how the government is planning and managing the entire sewerage process, more so now that the EMB has released this very disturbing statistical info.

As far as I know, the MWSS is supposed to be under the Department of Public Works & Highways (DPWH) one way or the other, but it is not clear to me how the DPWH Secretary is able to participate in the overall process of planning and managing the sewage supply chain. Obviously, this is only as far as Metro Manila is concerned, because outside the metro area, the Local Waterworks Utilities Authority (LWUA) has jurisdiction. How does the DPWH relate to LWUA? Are MWSS and LWUA coordinating with each other?

If only the DPWH would stop functioning like a line agency by actually implementing projects, it would have more time to attend to its real function as a staff agency, and that is to plan and monitor the availability of critical infra inclusive of all kinds of public works. This new revelation that the sewerage infra has been neglected is solid proof enough of this role confusion that is characteristic of the DPWH.

The DENR is undoubtedly a staff agency and thank goodness, it does not have the project funds that would cause it to have role confusion. From where it stands however, is there not something that the DENR Secretary could do to help solve the “sewerage crisis”, aside from reporting the gravity of the problem through the EMB?

Even if it hurts, let us admit the truth that as one nation and as one people, we have failed to recognize the importance of planning and managing the sewerage process, and sad to say, some of the damage caused by this collective negligence might be beyond repair already. Whenever and wherever we could still do something to correct this “sin of omission”, we should act right away so that we could catch up with lost time.

As of press time, the government is already preparing the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the newly passed “Clean Water Act”. What are the chances that this new law will be fully implemented compared to its twin the “Clean Air Act”? The last I heard, the government is unable to implement this other law, because of the shortage of devices for measuring air quality. Not unless we could bring in the real solutions to this “sewerage crisis”, we could be facing a water shortage in the future that may already be difficult to turn around.


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Gospel-inspired political culture

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... IN-DEPTH - When wish fathers thought

... ANALYSIS - Humbling yet enriching

... KA IKING 4U - A very serious sewerage crisis

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