The news reports about the death of four (4) people and the hospitalization of 200 more in Tondo, Manila due to contaminated water are greatly saddening and extremely alarming. Doctors who attended to the victims suspect a cholera outbreak via the water system in the area—an outbreak that could easily extend to other localities that are part of the same deteriorating pipe network.

Maynilad Water Services Inc. (MWSI) is directly to blame for this disaster. Its officials have been quoted in a radio interview as saying that its pipe networks in Tondo are indeed old, but that their company does not have funds to repair them. This lack of funds has been Maynilad’s perennial excuse for its terrible performance ever since it took over the concession in 1997. Its record over the last six years will show how it has failed to comply with nearly all the standards set forth in the original concession agreement: it has raised prices by 400%, failed to expand to target areas, failed to ensure 24-hour water supply to service areas, failed to reduce leaks, spillage and water theft, failed to increase water pressure and improve water quality. In December 2002 it terminated its contract, and has withheld investments since then. As a result, the conditions in its service areas in the west zone have deteriorated even further.

Yet even its clients die, fall ill, suffer water shortages, pay onerous rates and endure other abuses, Maynilad refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for the general breakdown of its operations. The closed-door arbitration process between government and Maynilad continues, still unable to establish Maynilad’s obvious role in the decline of Metro Manila’s water situation to this pathetic state.

The levels of water quality, water pressure and the extent of pipe damage are not merely technical details in the concession agreement; these are critical issues that pose grave dangers to public health. Breaches in the pipe system also have security implications in this post-9/11 era. (The unfortunate drowning of a man in a major Manila Water pipe last May illustrated the dangers of a vulnerable pipe network.) The disaster in Tondo underscores a basic reality: we cannot live without safe, clean and adequate water to drink and use.

BANTAY TUBIG condemns this reprehensible tragedy and takes Maynilad Water Services Inc. (MWSI) to task for the deaths and illness of the victims. We call on the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Health, local government units in Maynilad areas and the Metro Manila Development Authority to act immediately to avert a public health crisis. The national government, the MWSS and other architects of the water privatization policy must make Maynilad accountable for its gross neglect and impunity, and prepare to take over Maynilad areas to safeguard public welfare.

(Philippine Water Vigilance Network)

BANTAY TUBIG Network: AKBAYAN Party-list, Alliance of Progressive Labor, CIBAC Party-list, Focus on the Global South-Philippines, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Institute for Popular Democracy, Tambuyog Development Center, Ma. Teresa Diokno-Pascual

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