Water district employees in Mindanao to block Water Sector Reform Act

Sep. 05, 2012

They call for the pull out Senate Bill 2997 as they say it spells doom not only for the employees of various water districts who will face job displacements  once the bill is enacted, but the people’s access to this basic need, as well.

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The renewed effort to ensure the passage of Senate Bill 2997, and its counterpart House Bill 5497, also known as the Water Sector Reform Act (WSRA) last week, prompted employees of water districts in Mindanao to bolster moves to block the proposed changes in the way water is being sourced, managed and distributed to Filipinos.

Simultaneous protests were conducted by employees of water districts in various places in Mindanao, Monday, in response to the nationally-coordinated action called for by the umbrella group, Water System Employees’ Response (Water), an affiliate of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees  (Courage).

They call for the pull out SB 2997 as they say it spells doom not only for the employees of various water districts who will face job displacements  once the bill is enacted, but the people’s access to this basic need, as well.

Author of SB 2997, Senator Edgardo Angara, assured in a public hearing last week that there will be no privatization under the WSRA, a declaration that employees of water districts slam as “sheer deception.”

Privatized water districts

Edelmero Reyes, President of the Metro Cotabato Water District Employees Union told davaotoday.com in an interview that they have no doubts that SB 2997 and HB 5497 will result to “privatized water districts.”

Among other provisions of SB 2997 is the emphasis on the promotion of arrangements between the government and private entity for the provision of water service in a particular area, or the so-called Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) of water services, assuming that this is the way “to reform” the failure of the water district model under Presidential Decree 198, to provide quality service.

PD 198, which essentially places water resource management, development and distribution under government control, is the law that governs water services in the country for 30 years now.

This is why the proposed bill is also seeking to restructure the management of water resources by consolidating service providers under the so-called Provincial Water Resource Zones (PWRZ).

But Rudy Aranjuez, President of the employees’ union of the Davao City Water District is wary that this move to restructure the management of water districts will diminish government control over this basic public utility.

“Nabalaka mi kay kung mapasa na kini, wala nay katungod ang city, bisan Board kay ang National na ang magbuot, unya klaro man diha nga pag makuha na sa national government hinayhinay na kini nilang ihatag o itugyan ngadto sa private sector (We are worried that once this bill is passed, the City and even the Board will lose its hold of the water district to the national leadership, and in turn gradually hand it over to private hands),” Aranjuez said.

Aranjuez said with the takeover of private entities on water districts, the people may even lose the benefit of a public hearing prior to any move to increase water rates.

He cites the case of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System or MWSS where water rates increased rapidly since its privatization in 1997.

Aranjuez cited that Davaoeños can even hardly afford the P114.40 monthly minimum charge for water supply service. In fact, he said, every month in Davao City, there are about 1,000 households whose water lines get disconnected for failure to pay their water bill.

Toll on workers

For Ferdinand Salvacion, president of the employees’ union of the Digos City Water District, at stake in this privatization scheme are also the workers of water districts.

“Mao nay dakong problema sa among mga empleyado tungod kay kung i-privatize na ni, apil na pud mi apektado, (That is the problem. Privatization will certainly take its toll on us, the workers,)” Salvacion said.

The profit-oriented nature of private entities, he said, makes it susceptible for them to embark on “streamlining,” a scheme to shed off workers in order to save on labor expenses and increase profits.

Edelmero Reyes, President of the Metro Cotabato Water District Employees Union blames President Benigno Aquino III’s centerpiece economic program Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) behind this move to push the onerous bill.

The Mindanawons against Privatization of Water and Energy Resources (M-Power) with which workers of various water employees unions have also affiliated with, is also saying that under the PPP scheme “the ultimate motive is for profit for the few and not for service for all”.

M-power convener Danilo Dayanghirang said the consolidation of existing water districts under the Local Water Supply and Sanitation Company (LWSSC) in a designated Provincial Water Resource Zone or PWRZ, will easily facilitate government and private partnership’s entry in concession agreements specified under the PPP program.

He also explained that the local water districts may not be abolished as promised by its proponents, however, “public control of it will definitely be diminished because the bill allows big local and foreign companies to take over the operations.”

House Bill 5497, SB 2997’s counterpart proposal in Congress, is authored by Davao City 1st district representative Karlo Alexei Nograles.

Alejo Rojas, assistant general manager for operations of the Zamboanga City Water District call for a unified action among various water districts in Mindanao. “Ang among position sa karon dili gyud mi mosugot nga maprivatize. We also request the Sanggunian to pass a resolution in support of opposing moves to private water districts,” Rojas said.

As part of its intensified campaign, M-Power is conducting massive information and petition signing drives down to the communities, campuses and public places.

The group believes that these signed petitions would serve as strong messages to the Aquino administration that privatizing water districts is a wrong option.

The coalition also urges local legislators in different local legislative bodies to pass resolutions opposing the enactment of the Angara and Nograles bills. (Alex D. Lopez and Roweno R. Caballes/davaotoday.com)

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