Thursday, July 3, 2014

Local water supplier seeks rate hike amid howls of protest
By Manilyn Ugalde

LEGAZPI CITY, July 2 (PNA) – Amid howls of protest for failure to provide potable drinking water during the past seven years, the controversial Legazpi City Water District (LCWD) has announced that it will increase its water consumption rate this month of July.

The planned increase, however, has not yet materialized as the LCWD board is still to approve the proposed increase.

The LCWD plans to increase the minimum (10 cubic meters and below) rate from Php 217 to Php 238.

The graduated charges and the increases are: 11-20 cu. m., Php 23.90 to Php 26.20; 21-30 cu. m., Php 20.75 to Php 29.35; 31-40 cu. m., no increase.

For 41-50 cu. m. the rate will be fixed at 33.85 and for over 50 cu. m., the same rate of Php 33.85 will remain steady.

The proposed increases were presented during a public hearing on June 20 where LCWD official justified the proposed increases as necessary to carry out its various projects and that the water coming out of the faucets of the 20,000 water consumers is already potable.

Several consumers present in the meeting, however, brought with them plastic bottles filled with dirty, chocolate-colored water content.

Moreover, the University of the Philippines-Natural Science Research Institute (UP-NSRI) has ruled three times since 2011 that LCWD's water is not potable for drinking.

The dirty water issue started after the LCWD contracted Phil-Hydro Corp. as its bulk water supplier in 2008.

The contract provides that Phil-Hydro will supply 20,000 cu. m. of potable water, which the LCWD has to pay whether it consumes the 20,000 cu. m. or not.

Thus, Phil-Hydro, which had a paid-up capitalization of only about P55,000 at that time of the contract, was expected to earn billions of pesos in a 25-year contract period.

It boasted of a mineral-type of water to be supplied to Legazpi City consumers.

In 2011, with the LCWD failing to show the promised and much-boasted mineral-type of water, the city council, in a resolution, sought an investigation of the LCWD-Phil-Hydro contract as angry consumers complained of being cheated for the glaring yellowish, if not brownish, color of water with residue coming out of the faucet.

The investigation, in joint effort with the Department of Health (DOH), confirmed that based on laboratory results, the LCWD-Phil-Hydro water was not potable for drinking.

This was later confirmed by a laboratory test result from UP-NSRI.

In 2012, Maynilad water acquired ownership of the Phil-Hydro but amid its Php 90-million fund infusion for rehabilitation and improvement projects, the UP-NSRI laboratory result showed dirty water supply with the Total Solid Hardness remaining above the normal level, said Mayor Noel Rosal.

Rosal added that Legazpi water is not even fit for cooking, bathing and laundrying.

The Phil-Hydro reportedly was forced to sell out after the city government would not issue business and building permits.

There was not yet even operational clearance from the DOH and an environmental clearance certificate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Consumers equally blamed local government officials and the DOH for their seeming glaring negligence on why water, which is the prime concern of authorities, was ignored for years without any action shown until one Legazpi resident complained to Malacañang.

In 2011, the Commission on Audit, tapped by Rosal to investigate the controversial Phil-Hydro-LCWD water supply problem, found several violations on the part of the two firms, including disallowances of P150 million incurred by LCWD officials during the period 2008-2009.

Amid the problem of water potability and planned increase of LCWD water rate, Rosal has stood firm on his public warning that "Legazpi City water is not safe for drinking," adding that he may be forced to charge the board of directors in court.

Last week, the city council, through Councilor Allan Rañola, committee on health and education chair, sponsored a resolution condemning and strongly opposing the LCWD planned rate increase.(PNA) CTB/FGS/MU/CBD/