Private corporation wants to buy Davao’s water district, says former BoD

By
June 27 2013
A member of Namadacwad protests the planned privatization of the Davao City Water District.  (davaotoday.com file photo by Medel V. Hernani)

A member of Namadacwad protests the planned privatization of the Davao City Water District. (davaotoday.com file photo by Medel V. Hernani)

Dominador Lopez said the Aboitiz Power Corporation has been very interested to acquire the DCWD in light of the latter’s plan to get the source of the city’s potable water supply from ground water to surface water.

By JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — He said his guess was right.  A former member of the Davao City Water District (DCWD) Board of Directors claimed he already foresaw the interest of a private corporation to acquire the city’s only water district — one of the few remaining government-owned and controlled corporations in the country.

Dominador Lopez said the Aboitiz Power Corporation has been very interested to acquire the DCWD in light of the latter’s plan to get the source of the city’s potable water supply from ground water to surface water.

He said it won’t be difficult for Aboitiz since it already pulls surface water from the Tamugan River to run the turbines of its hydropower plant through its wholly-owned subsidiary, the Hedcor Inc.  The latter is said to be the largest developer of run-of-river hydropower in the country.

“If you think about it, the water already goes through their plant to run the turbines then return it to the river.  So it’s just easy for them to treat (the water into potable drinking water),” Lopez, who now heads the non-government organization Watershed Environmental Protection Coalition, said.

However, the said company is not the only one and the first to show its interest in acquiring DCWD.  In 1999, Campaigne Generally Des Aux, a French company, expressed its interest by conducting an “unsolicited” study on the feasibility of switching to surface water from ground water using the Tamugan River as source.

This was according to Rudy Aranjuez, Chairperson of the labor union Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Davao City Water District (Namadacwad).

The foreign company’s move was strongly opposed by the labor union.  Aranjuez also shared that it even billed the DCWD of PHP 42 Million for the said study.  But the water district didn’t pay for it.

No need to privatize

Lopez said while he agrees that the water district should pursue the study of shifting to surface water as the source from ground water “won’t last forever,” he believes the DCWD can handle it and won’t need help from any private corporation.

He challenged the DCWD to incur the loan and implement the project alone as he estimated that it would now cost PHP 10 Billion.

“The district has been in business for already 35 years.  We already have very experienced people,” he said, noting that DCWD has done projects and paid its debts before.

Aside from loans intended for the project, the district has also incurred loans to improve its facilities.

In 2000, Aranjuez said the Japan Bank of International Cooperation offered a PHP 650-M loan to fund the “Phase 3” project.

“It was used for the expansion of services, the construction of reservoirs and the installation and repair of pipe lines,” Aranjuez said adding that back then they still have access to certain documents.

But because of the said loan, DCWD increased its water rates of up to 60 percent for the period of 2000-2004 raising the minimum water bill from PHP 50 to PHP 80.

In 2005, the water district decided to increase the water rate to 60 percent.  But it was met with protests headed by Namadacwad.  Because of the unpopular decision, then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte intervened.  The water rate increase was trimmed down to 30 percent.

The same year, when Lopez retired from the DCWD, there were about 75,000 water subscribers.

In 2007, DCWD proposed a loan of PHP 100M from the Local Water Utilities Administration, a national agency regulating local water districts.

But Namadacwad has opposed the move, facing the brunt of the management.

Three union officers were terminated, including Aranjuez, while other officers were suspended for two months.  There were also union members that were suspended for a month.

“We appealed our case to the Civil Service Commission and I was reinstated after 11 months of suspension.  The case filed against us was ‘illegal concerted mass action.’  But the CSC said the penalty of such case should have only been a reprimand and neither termination nor suspension,” Aranjuez explained.

Recently, Davao City residents were surprised with the almost 100-percent increase in their water bills.

Aranjuez said this is still part of the 60 percent increase which has been deferred because of the intervention of Duterte.  He also shared that the meter rental increased from PHP 15 to PHP 21.

A reclassification was also done to business subscribers, “(D)epending on the business size, it was increase from 125 to 160 percent,” he said.

However, Lopez said subscribers should not be alarmed with the water rate increases at the moment because it’s “better” if we’ll have to compare it once the DCWD will be privatized.  By that time, he said, the company “can increase rates without regulation.”

Only 20 percent are served

In a citizens’ dialogue led by the Water for the People Network, it was found out that many areas in the city, especially in the hinterlands, are still not served by the DCWD.

“For several years, they promised to put up pipe lines in our area,” said Richard Jim Navales, a councilor in Mandug village, part of this city’s second Congressional District.  But until now, they have no access of water supply from the DCWD.

Lopez said certain areas need water pumps as they are in elevated zones.

“There are lots of things to consider including the location of reservoirs,” Lopez said as he estimated that, as of now, only 20 percent of the city is enjoying water services from the DCWD.

Meanwhile, Lopez said national agencies play a major role in the life of the water districts, like the National Water Resources Board (NWRB).

It its website, NWRB says it “is responsible for ensuring the optimum exploitation, utilization, development, conservation and protection of the country’s water resource, consistent with the principles of Integrated Water Resource Management,” which includes the utilization of both ground and surface water.

But Lopez said NWRB has not been helpful as it played “favorites,” especially to bottling companies.  “If you are a favorite it’s easy for you to process things,” he said.  (John Rizle L. Saligumba/davaotoday.com)

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