Water level rising up

“LET us level up!”

It was Jerry P. Treñas speaking while campaigning for mayor of Iloilo City last summer.

That challenge of the now mayor appears to be shaping up in the form of malls, subdivisions, widened roads and new motor vehicles.

Thus, the need for upgraded power and water providers. In due time, MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) will take over the 96-year-old Panay Electric Co. (PECO).

And now, the Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD), a government-controlled corporation, has become simply Metro Iloilo Water (MIW), having joint-ventured with the Manila-based Metro Pacific (MP). As usual, it covers Iloilo City and the towns of Cabatuan, Leganes, Maasin, Oton, Pavia, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara.

Since this writer is not privy to circumstances that “provoked” the local water district to partner with the billionaire corporation, let us focus on what good it would do to us water consumers. First, let us briefly go down memory lane.

Sometime in 1926, while the Philippines was a colony of the United States, the Philippine Assembly passed Commonwealth Act No. 3222, creating the Iloilo Metropolitan Waterworks (IMWW) under the administration of the provincial government of Iloilo.

In 1955, Republic Act No. 1383 created the National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA), which was national in scope, and took over the operation of IMWW.

In 1971, another law abolished NAWASA and created the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

In 1978, as provided for by Presidential Decree 198, MWSS turned over the water district to the city and renamed it Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD).

PD 198 vests in the Iloilo City mayor the power to appoint the five-man board (Section 9), which in turn has the power to appoint the general manager and remove him “for cause and after due process”.

Under present circumstances, the herculean task of revitalizing the water system lies mainly in the hands of its newly-designated officer-in-charge / general manager, Amarylis C. Castro, a renowned certified public accountant who had been serving the MIWD as administrative services manager for over a decade.

In the last five months, Castro and MIWD legal counsel Roy Villa have been collaborating with Metro Pacific’s Eric Gita – now the chief operating officer of MIW – on the fine prints of transition.

Under the collaborative set-up, MP plays the role of water producer; MIWD of water distributor. MP gets 80 percent of the income while MIWD gets 20.

Would the joint venture not eventually evolve into privatization?

“No,” Castro told us, allaying critics’ fear that it would result in onerous hikes in water rates. “For as long as government is involved, no changes in rates could be made without the approval of the Local Water Utilities Administration.”

Most members of the five-man Board of Directors remain the same, each one to serve a four-year term before getting replaced by the city mayor.

I guess the joint venture is the answer to the question of survival.  Without the infusion of MP’s P12.5 billion in capital expenditure in the next two years, MIWD may no longer cope with its rehabilitation and expansion program.

The water system has been incurring losses due to leakages and illegal connections that need immediate attention.

For example, an entire replacement of pre-war water pipes is being undertaken in PHHC subdivision in Mandurriao at a budget of P15 million.  And it’s only a portion of some 20 kilometers of pipes to be replaced.

In downsizing itself into 20 percent of MIW, may the old partner “upsize” its reputation that had been blemished by past controversies. ([email protected]/PN)

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