Metro Manila remains as the country’s central hub for investments, business, and opportunities. With more people flocking to the metro, there is a basic need required by many—and that is clean water. As the primary agency tasked with water and sewerage services in Metro Manila and parts of Cavite and Rizal, the MWSS endeavors to serve not only the growing state capital but also the environment around it.

The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) replaced the previous National Waterworks and Sewerage System (NAWASA) in the management of water and sewerage. Republic Act No. 6234, which created the MWSS and dissolved NAWASA, has for its declaration of policy the proper operation and maintenance of waterworks system as an essential public service vital to public health and safety. The mandate of the MWSS is “to ensure an uninterrupted and adequate supply and distribution of potable water for domestic and other purposes at just and equitable rates.” The proper operation and maintenance of sewerage systems in the service area was also made part of its mandate. Republic Act No. 8041 or The Water Crisis Act in 1997 allowed for the privatization of MWSS. Metro Manila was divided into two zones, the East and the West zone. A Concession Agreement was granted to Manila Water Company, Inc. (MWCI or Manila Water) and Maynilad Water Services, Inc. (MWSI or Maynilad) for 25 years. This was extended for another 15 years to end in 2037. By then, the operation of the waterworks and sewerage system in Metro Manila will be returned to the MWSS, which can then opt to operate or reprivatize through another bidding process.

The MWSS nevertheless continues to perform its mandate through the MWSS Regulatory Office (RO), tasked with implementing the provisions of the Concession Agreement. The MWSS RO monitors the two concessionaires, which are required to submit quarterly reports. The component of the report includes key performance indicators and business efficiency measures (BEMs). The two private water concessionaires can therefore be monitored on several aspects including but not limited to: their franchise coverage, operation expenses, power usage, build volume, collection efficiency, down times in case of repairs, amount of water treated and sold, employee efficiency, and projects implemented. The MWSS is then able to provide assistance to the concessionaires whenever necessary.

The current Chief Regulator of the MWSS is Atty. Patrick Lester N. Ty, the youngest to hold the position. After obtaining his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of the Philippines in 2003, Ty began his career as a lawyer at the Ocampo and Manalo Law Firm. Afterwards, he worked at the Department of Finance in the Privatization Office from 2006 to 2010. Thereafter, he became the Deputy Administrator of the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan from 2010 to 2017 before Ty was appointed as MWSS Chief Regulator on August 1, 2017.

La Mesa Dam

The mandate of MWSS requires the continuous and ample supply of potable water. The Greater Metro Manila area, which includes parts of Cavite and Rizal, was divided into two zones in 1997. “As their regulator, we compare the two concessionaires because Metro Manila was split in half, instead of having just one concessionaire,” Chief Regulator Ty says. “It is an apples-to-apples comparison because it is different to compare the market of Metro Manila to Cebu or Iloilo since they don’t have the same demographics—the purchasing power, the population density, and such,” he notes. The best solution was to divide the coverage area into two zones, allowing for two private water concessionaires.

Manila Water serves water to more than six million people in the East Zone while Maynilad has over nine million people in the West Zone. According to Chief Regulator Ty, the water coverage in Metro Manila is already at 98%. “We don’t have any, or if at all, very minimal problems in water coverage. It is only the outskirts like Rizal and parts of Cavite that the two concessionaires are having problems,” he explains. At the onset of the Concession Agreement, Manila Water divided the entire East zone into small business units, unlike Maynilad who held the West Zone. “Maynilad considered the area as one and tried to do a macro management when it was still under the [Benpres Holdings Corporation] Lopez group,” Ty says. While Manila Water could easily trace problems that may arise to the specific business area, Maynilad was unable to do so. After the Metro Pacific Investments Corporation (MPIC) took over, Maynilad followed Manila Water and converted the franchise area to smaller manageable units.

With water supply and distribution through pipes and lines, there are also leakages. This forms a large part of nonrevenue water (NRW) or water that is produced but not used by the customer and therefore, is not billed. The other kinds of NRW are water used for firefighting, for flushing pipes, and for other public uses. The NRW of Manila Water is at 12%, which is already at an international standard. “It’s not feasible to go lower because, in order to do so, the cost to replace the pipes will be higher. It is not proportionate or commensurate to the improvement in the NRW. You’ll be spending too much to save a few drops of water,” the Chief Regulator explains. On the other hand, the NRW of Maynilad is at 40%, an improvement from the previous 60%. The same amount of NRW can actually already supply a dam, so it must be reduced further to avoid wasting water. Aside from it being caused by the higher volume of informal settlers in the West Zone, the higher NRW is also due to the leakages of the dilapidated pipes since Maynilad inherited majority of the older pipes; some of which are more than 50 years old. By contrast, when Manila Water came in as a water concessionaire, the East Zone was relatively new and undeveloped. As a result, they were able to lay down newer pipes, which reduced their NRW in the long run. Because the normal standard for a third world country is 20% NRW, it is Maynilad’s target by 2022.

While water supply and distribution was immediately addressed, the operations and improvement for the water sewerage was overlooked. On one hand, the coverage for sanitation is 90% as it only requires the deployment of dislodging trucks for each area. However, sewage is the more important concern. “It is the biggest problem, because for the entire concessionaire area, the coverage for sewerage was only at 14% when I started,” Chief Regulator Ty says. Currently, each concessionaire is able to provide proper sewerage to about 20% of their respective zones. The Supreme Court of the Philippines (SC) continuing mandamus under Republic Act No. 9275 or the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 requires that the two concessionaires should have Metro Manila 99% covered by 2037, in terms of sewerage.

This aspect of wastewater services entails the installment of direct pipes or interceptor lines leading to a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) or Septage Treatment Plant (SpTP). These treatment plants are required in order to ensure that the accumulated sewage or wastewater is safe for release to the environment. Untreated water contains harmful contaminants that pollute the environment. For SpTPs, the current practice requires a vacuum truck to dislodge the septic tank for each household before going to a SpTP. “Right now, we are implementing a combined system. It won’t be a direct sewer line anymore, but it is going to be from the septic tank to a conveyance line to an STP. Any dislodging tank that might go [to an area] would serve only to remove any blockage,” Atty. Ty says.

The existing sewerage facilities of Maynilad are 30 STP/SpTPs with a capacity of 541 million liters per day (MLD), while Manila Water has 40 STP/SpTPs able to handle 312MLD. “However, these are on a smaller scale because we don’t have any land, considering that Metro Manila is densely populated,” says the head of the MWSS RO. “For a normal STP in the United States or in Australia, it requires around 10 to 15 hectares. Melbourne has 2 STPs covering the entire city,” he clarifies. In Metro Manila, there are around 50 STPs covering all of the cities. Apart from the land area, the STP must also be located at a lower, or lowest, point from its origin to ensure gravitational movement of the sewage towards the treatment plant. By its nature, sewage behaves differently from the flow of water, which can be pumped using water pressure. Given these constraints, searching for an optimal location proves to be a challenge.

Apart from the above-mentioned challenges, installing sewer lines will also have other adverse effects to the public. “It will cause the tariff to increase significantly, and it will cause a lot of traffic,” Chief Regulator Ty states. The tariff implication was the reason why both concessionaires postponed the improvement of the sewerage, which was supposed to begin in 2013. “Because we were at 14% in 2016, it requires building more sewer lines—new ones, at that. This means building the conveyance lines under the road so you have to disrupt traffic and obstruct the traffic flow,” he explains. Another problem is that residents refuse to connect or be dislodged from their septic tank. Similarly, homeowners refuse to provide the right of way for the construction of sewer lines. With the 14% coverage for sewerage, the existing pipes may need to be fixed. However, majority of the coverage areas require building new lines. “We don’t really need to rehabilitate because we don’t have any sewer lines,” Ty comments. Another problem is the availability of contractors who hold the expertise in the area of sewerage and sewer lines, considering that sewerage functions differently from water. “The majority of people do water but sewerage is a specialized field. The people who have the correct technology, who have the know-how how to build the sewer lines properly are limited. There are not enough companies and contractors to build all of it,” Ty says.

In keeping with the 99% coverage target by 2037 as per the SC continuing mandamus, the MWSS aims to accomplish near half of that by 2022. “I am targeting 44% at the end of my term or to more than double it,” he adds. To do so, the installment of more conveyance lines—that is, sewer line and interceptors from each household to the STPs—is needed. The construction of more STPs is also required to improve the sewage coverage in Metro Manila. MWSS proposes Maynilad to be able to cover an additional 320MLD more from 2018 to 2022, while Manila Water’s capacity should increase to 725MLD in the next four years.

Both Manila Water and Maynilad source their water from the Angat Dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan. It is a concrete water reservoir and hydroelectric dam with three tunnels from Angat to La Mesa Dam. Because there is a need to rehabilitate these existing tunnels, a fourth tunnel has been constructed and is scheduled to be online within the year. Angat Dam provides 90% of the water in Metro Manila, delivering 4,000 MLD. Of this, 40% of the allocation is for Manila Water while the rest is for Maynilad. Due to the concern raised with Angat Dam being the only major water source and potential water crisis in case the dam fails, the MWSS is pushing to build an alternative water source. Owing also to the continued population growth in an already teeming metropolitan, there is also the rising demand for additional water supply to avoid future water shortages in Metro Manila.

The new centennial Kaliwa Dam Project in Infanta, Quezon is set to provide 600 MLD, another 10 years of water security for the metro. It is a Build, Build, Build project, scheduled to be fi nished by 2024. “It was proposed in the 1990s, and the current administration is pushing for the project, in hopes of addressing the water shortage problem,” Ty explains. “It will co-exist with Angat Dam, so we will have two water sources. If there is a problem with one, then we have the other because it is better to have a back-up, which we don’t have right now,” he further adds. The MWSS is also looking into other water sources such as the Sierra Madre and the Wawa Dam in Rodriguez, Rizal. Constructed over the Marikina River, the Wawa Dam was built in 1909 but has since been abandoned. Alongside the already-approved Kaliwa Dam, there is also a Kanan Dam being studied by the MWSS as other alternative water sources.

Apart from Angat Dam, Laguna Lake is another water source for Metro Manila. It is divided into the East Bay, which is the cleanest water, the Central Bay, and the West Bay. Maynilad also sources its water from Laguna Lake for the areas they serve in Muntinlupa and Cavite. This is because the older dilapidated pipes might not be able to survive the long distance between Angat Dam and Cavite, which leaves Maynilad no recourse but to source the water from Laguna Lake. However, there are times when the water in the lake is brackish and the concessionaire has to use reverse osmosis in order to clean the water. This process, however, is expensive and energy extensive resulting in higher expenditures for Maynilad to treat the water. While Maynilad takes its water from the West Bay, sourcing the water from the cleaner yet farther parts of Laguna Lake in the East and Central Bay poses a challenge in transporting the water to the Maynilad clients in the south. With three existing water treatment plants (WTPs), Maynilad is building another plant in Putatan. Manila Water is also looking into sourcing water from Laguna Lake Central Bay after building a WTP in Cardona, Rizal, which is in its testing stage.

The Manila Bay Rehabilitation Project (MBRP) is in response to the continuing mandamus by the SC. Agencies including the Department Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), have already started implementing their courses of action.

The MWSS and its two concessionaires, Manila Water and Maynilad, are also included in the list of the implementing agencies. “We met with the DENR and explained to them that there is a master plan for the wastewater in Metro Manila, which we have approved during the rate rebasing last year,” Chief Regulator Ty states. “It will more than double the sewer coverage. However, there are reasons why we cannot fully implement the plan,” he explains. First, it will result in an increase in the water tariff. Second, there will be problem with the traffic as construction is done along the public highways. Third, there is the problem with acquisition of real estate to build the STP, and, fourth is the acquisition of the right way to build such. The fifth issue is regarding the issuance of permits by the local government units (LGUs), as some LGUs are unwilling and uncooperative in issuing the permits necessary to put up the STP or to build the lines. “Those are the problems faced by the concessionaires who are willing to build the sewer lines. We are helping them by talking to the DENR, and Secretary Roy Cimatu is very supportive and committed to assist us,” Atty. Ty states. “MWSS paves the way for the concessionaires to build the sewer lines, but this is not a simple solution because the pollution in Manila Bay is not only caused by the sewers; it is also caused by industrial waste.”

It is important to note that the two private water concessionaires only handle residential waste. Majority of the pollutants in Manila Bay are the industrial waste and the informal settlers, both with solid and liquid waste. These fall under the control of the surrounding LGUs, the DENR, and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). “Now, we have the commitment of the DENR that they will talk to the DILG and the DILG will talk to the LGUs. If they are able to do that, then the MWSS does not have an excuse anymore. If there is a problem, then it’s going to be us. Hopefully that will all be resolved soon,” Chief Regulator Ty states.

“When I was appointed to the position as Chief RO in 2017, my marching order was to address the sewerage, even before the clean-up of Boracay and Manila Bay happened,” Ty says. The MWSS is set to fully implement the master plan on the improvement of the sewerage in Metro Manila, after dialogues with the DENR and the DILG, tempered with the issues on increased tariff, disrupted traffic, and the LGU concerns on properties and permits. “We are just starting, especially for sewerage. We haven’t given it enough attention in the past 20 years,” the MWSS Chief Regulator admits. Since the commencement of their concessionaires, both Manila Water and Maynilad have focused solely on water. 20 years of the 40-year concession has already passed. “We have to start now or else, we will not be able to finish by 2037. In my opinion, once we reach 40-45% by 2022, that is already the tipping point for us. After that, it’s going to be easier,” says Chief Regulator Ty. “We won’t be able to [achieve full coverage] yet but it will have a significant impact to the environment.”

The MWSS Regulatory Office continues to perform its mandate, protecting the interests of the public by balancing the need for additional projects to clean the water and the affordability of water. “I understand, even we can do this tomorrow and clean everything but the public cannot afford it, then it cannot be done,” MWSS Chief Regulator Patrick Ty says. “But we also have to be reminded that it is also our responsibility to clean the environment. We cannot expect people from Mindanao or Visayas to pay for the cleaning of water and wastewater in Metro Manila,” he adds. As the MWSS continues to do its part in providing uninterrupted and adequate water and sewerage services, the residents of the Greater Metro Manila area also need to do their part in keeping the environment clean. — MAIELLE MONTAYRE


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