Atienza demands stop to environmental charge

Rep. Joselito Atienza (Archdiocese of Manila)

BUHAY Partylist Representative and Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza on Wednesday said water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water should stop billing customers for environmental charge for failing to provide adequate wastewater treatment facilities and service.

Atienza made the appeal to Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu in a statement as he claimed that 20 percent of Maynilad and Manila Water billing is supposed to cover cleaning and treatment of wastewater from households in Metro Manila.

“The payment is going to them but they are not building facilities to clean waters,” said Atienza. “If we have functioning (wastewater treatment) facilities, water released by households going to Manila Bay, Laguna de Bay and Pasig River should be as clean as our drinking water.”

“Technically, all household wastewater should be cleaned as part of the service to be provided by Maynilad and Manila Water. But instead of doing so, consumers are even charged for a service, which is about 20 percent of our water bills, that is not being rendered to them,” said the Manila representative.

“The people are pitiful. We are paying but they have not delivered,” Atienza said during the initial hearing on the budget of the DENR by the Committee on Appropriations.

The congressman from Manila said that in progressive cities like Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, household waste and liquid that has been processed through the wastewater treatment facilities come out clean and is even safe for drinking.

Meanwhile, Atienza berated DENR officials for their failure to clean up Manila Bay, Laguna de Bay and the Pasig River, as well as their failure to force the two water concessionaires to comply with their contractual obligations to put up waste-water treatment facilities.

“What has the DENR done to clean up Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay? Cleaning up these three water bodies would not only provide a safe environment to our residents, but could also spell an upsurge in the country’s economy. A clean Manila Bay could really offer Filipinos an ideal place for recreation and other purposes as envisioned by renowned architect Daniel Burnham upon entering Manila Bay in the early 1900s– ‘This city could become one of the most beautiful in the world’,” said Atienza.

He also asked, “What has the DENR done to compel Maynilad and Manila Water to fulfill their obligation to put up water-treatment facilities which they have failed to do so since their contract started in 1997?”

Due to the absence of waste water treatment facilities, household waste and sewage from Metro Manila and surrounding provinces have continually been discharged into the Pasig River and subsequently into Manila Bay, virtually killing the Bay and rendering it as one giant pozo negro.

Committee on Ecology Chairman Estrellita Suansing, Atienza and other committee members were disappointed to hear DENR officials say that the waste-water treatment facilities would be completed around 2037.

“At the rate they are going, 100 years will pass, and we still would not have the facilities. I am sorry to hear the Secretary accepting the position of the contractors. We believe in you, Mr. Secretary, they are fooling us,” exclaimed Atienza.

During Atienza’s term as DENR Secretary, he sued Maynilad and Manila Water for failing to comply with the terms of their contracts, such as providing waste water treatment facilities—something which they have yet to fully accomplish but have been charging consumers from the start. As a result, the two firms were fined P200,000 per day for non-compliance.

According to Undersecretary Jonas Leones, as of Wednesday, the fines have reached P674,400,000.

Atienza also asked the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) on the status of their efforts to clean up Laguna De Bay.

“What happened to the President’s order during his first SoNA for the removal of fishpens and fish cages from Laguna Lake by December, 2016? All we have seen the LLDA do is piece meal dismantling of structures and endless praise releases,” said Atienza.

“We agree with Chairperson Suansing when she proposed to reduce the DENR’s budget to a mere P100 because, as she said, DENR is ignoring us. And if they cannot show that they are doing something aggressive and proactive about these very serious problems, I will bring this matter to the President and I will move to reduce their budget to P1, practically abolishing the department,” Atienza warned.

p: wjg