MANILA Water on Wednesday insisted that it has complied with its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act and should not be fined a total of P921 million.
Manila Water filed a motion for reconsideration last week. The water concessionaire for the East Zone said there is no basis for the Supreme Court’s 2019 decision, slapping the company with the huge penalty for failing to complete its sewerage projects by 2009—or five years after the Clean Water Act took effect—and an additional running daily fine of P322,102 until the sewerage project is completed.
It warned that should it be compelled to pay the fine and complete the sewerage projects, water rates could go up by 780 percent or by as much as P26.70 per cubic meter.
Worse, traffic in Metro Manila will go from bad to worse if the SC ruling issued in August is not reversed, because it will have to dig up so many streets simultaneously just to connect the sewer lines.
According to Manila Water, Section 8 of the Clean Water Act simply required the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), and private concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad to interconnect the “existing” water lines of households, condominiums, subdivisions, among others, to the “available” sewer lines of the concessionaires.
By 2009, Manila Water said it had interconnected 61,000 out of 63,000 subscribers to its sewer trunk. The rest could not be interconnected because the “available” sewers would be compromised if overloaded, it explained. But since then, the company has installed additional sewers and spent billions of pesos more than it had collected for the purpose.
Section 8, it said, did not envision the completion of the whole project, only the interconnection.
The law, it added, also penalizes only the polluters, or their positive acts of commission. An act of omission such as a failure to interconnect is not punishable.
If the concessionaires, Manila Water claimed, were to compress into five years— the SC ruling wants—what was planned as a 40-year project, the hundreds of billions of pesos required would lead to an increase in the water bill of subscribers, leaving them less money for other necessities and triggering higher inflation.
Traffic is also expected to worsen in major thoroughfares, including Edsa, which is part of the Manila Water’s East Zone, because of the required work that includes digging all at the same time. The daily loss of P3.5 billion caused by existing traffic congestion could balloon significantly, it said.
To recall, the SC en banc in August voted 14-0 to fine Maynilad and Manila Water P921 million each for their failure to put sewage lines in violation of the Clean Water Act.
The order also held MWSS equally liable for both fines slapped against its two private water contractors and agents.
In issuing its ruling, the SC upheld a 2011 decision by the Court of Appeals which found the MWSS, Manila Water and Maynilad in violation of the Clean Water Act. The CA, however, merely imposed P29.4 million in fine covering the year 2009 only.
The case stemmed from a Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) directive in 2009 which slapped Manila Water and Maynilad with the fines for their failure to put up sufficient sewerage treatment facilities within their respective areas.
The DENR is currently in the middle of an ambitious program to rehabilitate the Manila Bay, which is the subject of a decade-old SC continuing mandamus, ordering 13 national government agencies to restore the historic bay water to its pristine state.