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Beyond late night pep talks

By Renato Reyes, Jr.

The government tries hard to convince us that we are doing fine compared to the rest of the world despite the widespread complaints and sufferings of the people who are under lockdown due to the corona virus disease (Covid-19).

The Philippines has had to resort to extreme quarantine measures precisely because of the failure of the Duterte regime to impose travel restrictions, do proper contact tracing, and recognize in a timely manner the local transmission that had been ongoing in the country. Don’t tell us we are better off. We are in this difficult situation because government downplayed many of the red flags early on. Remember that time when a patient from Greenhills with no travel history was infected with the virus, and health secretary Francisco Duque said that’s not local transmission because it’s just one person?

The people want the spread of the disease to stop through the necessary health measures such as community quarantine, mass testing, isolation and treatment of patients. The expanded quarantine has become necessary to slow down the spread of the disease given that our health system cannot cope with the rise of new cases. Slowing down the spread of the disease entails stopping the movement of people, especially when we do not yet have a clear picture of the extent of the infections. A University of the Philippines study projects that as many as 140,000 to 550,000 can be infected especially in densely populated urban poor communities.

Lifting the quarantine will be done based on two factors according to the DOH: lower number of new cases and the increased capacity of the health system to treat patients (enough hospital beds, respirators, doctors). The lifting may not be done abruptly because of the dangers of the virus infecting more people. This may require calibrated or gradual lifting of quarantine measures or lockdown. Some areas may take more time because they have a high incidence of infections.

What will prolong the lockdown is the failure of the government to implement the necessary health measures to confront the pandemic. What will prolong the lockdown is the failure of government to implement the needed economic support for the people. A hungry populace will not stay put and will break quarantine protocols, and will be more vulnerable to sickness. Kaya talagang mahigpit na magka-ugnay yung health at economics.

And if the lockdown is lifted, we have to fix major issues in the workplace, housing, sanitation, mass transportation, education and so on. We cannot just return to the way things were — with gross inequality and government neglect of social services laying the basis for more infections. The first thing we will be demanding after the lockdown is lifted is CHANGE. We do not want to go back to the way things were.

Those telling us we are doing fine are the ones that got us into this dire situation in the first place. They best heed the growing demands of the people and undertake the needed health and economic measures, else we will be looking at a longer lockdown period and more suffering and unrest among the population. Kaya na lang ganoon kadiin ang protesta at pagpapahayag sa gobyerno. Ayaw nating dumami ang tatamaan ng sakit, at ayaw nating humaba pa ang pagdurusa ng mamamayan. #

#TulongHindiKulong
#MassTestingNowPH
#IbigayAngAyuda

(The author is the secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.)

Rate hike for Maynilad customers approved: Looming increase in water rates to burden consumers more

Amid soaring prices, the MWSS Board of Trustees has given the nod to higher water rates for Maynilad Water Systems Inc.

This and impending Manila Water Company, Inc. rate increases are bound to burden consumers anew, said water rights group Water for the People Network (WPN).

WPN urged the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System-Regulatory Office (MWSS-RO) to suspend the hike so as not to aggravate the difficulty of millions of low-income families in spending for their basic needs.

Approved by the MWSS Board is a Php5.73/cubic meter (cu. m.) hike for Maynilad as proposed by the MWSS-RO.

Meanwhile, the proposed increase for  Manila Water rates is Php6.26-Php6.55/cu. m.), which is set for deliberation within the month.

These figures are the supposed results of the rate rebasing process.

Every five years, government determines new water rates according to its review of the water companies’ petitioned rates vis a vis their past and projected expenses throughout the concession period.

Purportedly in consideration of consumers’ inflation woes, the MWSS-RO proposed for the increases to be collected in tranches, starting in October.

Maynilad’s approved rate hike schedule begins at a weighted average of Php0.90/ cu. m.

Manila Water’s rate hike begins at a weighted average of Php1.50.

WPN however said that regardless of the scheduled tranches, any addition to current expenses further constricts spending for poor households.

This includes millions of families whose incomes already fall way below the Php995 Family Living Wage (FLW) for a family of five. The daily minimum wage in the National Capital Region (NCR) totals Php512.

MWSS-RO computes that this October, the bills of households covered by Maynilad will increase by a net amount of Php6.53 for households consuming average 15 cu. m. per month and a net amount of Php13.68 for households consuming average 25 cu. m. per month.

For Manila Water customers consuming the same average volumes of water, rates increase by a net amount of Php9.68 and Php20.30, respectively.

Aside from the basic charge, however, WPN noted that the all-in tariff includes other fees such as the foreign currency differential adjustment (FCDA), environmental charge, and the value-added tax (VAT).

All-in tariffs are already at Php48.03/cu. m. for Maynilad and Php36.40/cu. m. for Manila Water as of July 2018.

The MWSS-RO claimed that Maynilad’s approved rate hike is much lower than the company’s Php11.00 petitioned increase, as is the RO’s recommended increase for Manila Water compared to the latter’s Php8.30 proposed hike.

This supposedly reflects the MWSS’ prohibition of the inclusion of the water firms’ corporate income tax and expenses unrelated to water services such as donations and recreation.

WPN however said that the agency’s refusal to publicly show the documents proving this–prior to the approval of the MWSS Board–underscores that the rate rebasing process lacks transparency and authentic public consultation.

During the 2013 rate rebasing process, public clamor versus the discovered inclusion of such items in water bills led to the MWSS-RO’s rejection of the water concessionaires’ petitioned rates.

Thus, per their concession agreement (CA) with the government, Maynilad and Manila Water subsequently appealed to international arbitration courts to demand compensation for lost revenues.

The courts have ruled twice in favor of Maynilad. Manila Water, which the international courts have turned down, has a pending case.

Consumers face more tariff increases in the future, WPN said, because of government’s privatization of water despite its being a public utility.

The group challenged the MWSS-RO to spare consumers of additional fees by stopping the hike.

WPN also stressed the urgency of scrapping the CA, reversing water privatization and instituting strong government regulation over all public utilities. #