Monday, July 30, 2012

WATER BILL: A Civil, Criminal, and Human Right Issue

A few days ago, former Miss International Aurora Pijuan, a friend both offline and on Facebook, brought to my attention a cause and a case that I consider serious and of prime importance.

It must be serious and important because One, Au is leading the advocacy; Two, it merited a special page on Facebook “Our Water Bill is TUBIG (TOO BIG)” which attracted several subscribers; Three, it generated a Congressional hearing and/or investigation; Four, it inspired a movement called WARM (Water for All Refund Movement); and more significantly, Five, it resulted in the filing of a criminal case.

Concessionaires “Trouble the WATER”

Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water Company, Inc. are the concessionaires who operate the Water System in Metropolitan Manila. As such, they were granted the right as well as the obligation to distribute the water supplied by the government (MWSS). They are also responsible for delivering clean and safe water to the consumers through certain methods and technologies which they committed to institute to win their respective bids.

For their concessionary right, they are supposed to pay the government what is called the concessionary fees. For their obligations, they are empowered to bill and collect from the water consumers an amount authorized by MWSS. From the amounts collected, they would be allowed to retain a reasonable amount of profit which public utilities are entitled to: 12%.

For projects benefiting the consumers and upon approval of MWSS, through the Regulatory Office, they are allowed to recover whatever they have actually invested in these projects.  The billing will be over a predetermined period.

Herein lies “the mischief made”. Maynilad and Manila Water have been collecting from the consumers advanced payments for several years. So far, at least P6 billion and counting have been forcibly extracted from the consumers, a lot of whom are just “keeping their heads above WATER”. The payments are supposed to be for investments made in two projects: The P45.3 billion Laiban Dam and the P5.4 billion Angat Dam Irrigation Replacement.

Yet, records show that the concessionaires have not invested a single cent on the supposed projects. Worse, the projects do not and have ceased to exist. Worst, the concessionaires continue to collect from a consuming public continuously threatened with disconnection.

“Still WATERS run deep”

Trampled upon by a privileged group still in possession of the so-called “Wang Wang” mentality, many consumers who were quiet but proved to be smart and wise, decided to join WARM and answer the Call To Action of Aurora Pijuan.

Concessionaires in “Hot WATER”

WARM, on behalf of the consumers, have repeatedly made demands for the refund of the payments that were illegally collected. The attempts were in vain. It was like, “making a hole into the WATER”.

The Regulatory Office who must have felt placed “In deep WATER”, decided “to throw WATER on fire” by ordering the concessionaires to refund all the money illegally collected.  The order has been ignored and the consumers continue to suffer.

WARM, refusing “to drown in a glass of WATER”, chose a legal remedy allowed in a democratic, fair and just society. On behalf of the suffering public, it filed a case of Syndicated Estafa as covered by Articles 315/316 of the Revised Penal Code and Presidential Decree No. 1689.

Based on the known facts, and an analysis of the elements we look for In Syndicated Estafa as a crime, there is reason to believe that the respondents could “be in bad WATERS”. Add the factors that include qualifying circumstances such as conspiracy by the executives of the concessionaires and selected public officials, and the amount allegedly misappropriated, it could mean detention without bail.


Water is so essential to human life that you can expect to live only a few days without it.

“Water is fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights.” – The United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights.

By a vote of 122 in favor and none against, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution “recognizing access to clean and safe water as a human right. “ The resolution calls on States and international organizations “to provide financial resources, build capacity and transfer technology, particularly to developing countries, in scaling up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.”

The fight and advocacy that WARM and Our Water Bill Is Tubig (Too Big) are pursuing therefore, is not just a civil or a criminal case. It is a human right issue as well. 

Water, is essential to our bodily needs and “a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights”. The threat to deny consumers of this important right by disconnection for failure to pay an illegal bill, is an attempt to deprive a massive group of people rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Congress is right in conducting hearings on the issue. Aurora Pijuan is right in calling the attention of as many people as possible and for creating a special page on Facebook. WARM is right in filing a Syndicated Estafa case against those responsible for this act of injustice. 

Every Filipino should support all efforts to fight for what is right. We should all join in solving our water worries. By doing so, we’re also helping “alleviate hunger, relieve poverty, lower disease burden, and preserve the biosphere.”

Time to “bring WATER to the sea” or not?

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