The true value of water is realized only when there is lack of it. It’s also why this is often taken for granted; water is so much a part of our everyday lives that the concept of not having it is too overwhelming.
Unfortunately, this was once a way of life that Metro Manila residents faced everyday. Before 1997, the capital’s water supply and distribution was in disarray. Communal water sources were shared by hundreds of families who had to line up for hours just to get a few pails for the day’s use. Illegal connections ran rampant, draining these water sources even more. Clean and potable water was a luxury which poor families simply did not have, and that others had to acquire at a steep price. Needless to say, the morale was low among Metro Manila’s residents.
In 1995, this situation prompted the Philippine government to enact the National Water Crisis Act, which turned over the operation of water services from the government-owned Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) to the private sector. The Ayala-led Manila Water Company took over the East Zone of Metro Manila, 40% of the capital city, under a 25-year concession agreement; this granted the company exclusive rights to the use of land and facilities for the production, treatment and distribution of water, as well as the rights to operate the sewerage system.
By accepting this task, Manila Water took upon itself the responsibility of making millions of lives better.
Manila Water formally took over operations for the East Zone in 1997. This is comprised of Pasig, Taguig, Makati, Mandaluyong, Cubao & Balara (Quezon City), Marikina, San Juan and Antipolo-Rizal. All of these suffered from crippling water loss problems, and resorted to buying water from sources that charged ten to twenty times more than the normal cost.
Manila Water began its rehabilitation plan by connecting these areas effectively. Water pipes were added and repaired, and illegal connections were thoroughly acted upon and remedied. A laboratory was established to ensure that the water delivered is consistently clean and drinkable straight out of the tap. Reservoirs were improved upon to ensure that water will be available in case of emergencies.
Sewer lines and wastewater operations increased and was subsequently treated and rehabilitated. As water connections improved, so did the stability of the business; and this allowed the company to offer its water and wastewater services to areas outside Metro Manila. Now, Manila Water has established water and wastewater service partnerships in Laguna, Pampanga, Boracay and Cebu, as well as international ventures with Vietnam. The company is now internationally recognized through its corporate governance efforts as well as its business stability, as a proud example of success through the Filipino values of diligence and ingenuity.
Manila Water’s rehabilitation program was driven by a single principle: care for the customer. The company divided the East Zone into business areas, assigning Territory Managers and Customer Care specialists for each; its sole purpose is to understand the customer’s water concerns and to respond to these directly and efficiently.
Of the 6 million residents in the East Zone, 1.7 million come from impoverished families who cannot apply for water connections simply because they have no land they can call their own. To address this, Manila Water established the Tubig Para Sa Barangay (TPSB) program in 1998. Assisted by both government and non-government organizations, the company eased land title requirements for these communities, and provided them water services that are 1/3 of the normal cost. For the first time, these families could go about their lives without worrying about water ever again.
Manila Water sustained this effort by establishing partners, or kasanggas among community and barangay leaders. By empowering these stakeholders as being directly responsible for the welfare of their community, key issues like sanitation, health, and livelihood due to water supply was discussed and tackled decisively. A memorable example was 2009’s Typhoon Ondoy disaster, where Manila Water and their kasanggas braved the storm to save lives and provided potable water to its victims almost immediately.
Advocacy for the Environment
Before Manila Water took over, a lesser-recognized, yet equally important victim suffered as well; the environment. With only 3% of homes connected to sewers, wastewater from toilets, sinks, and waterways had only two places to go: poorly-maintained residential septic tanks, or Metro Manila’s rivers and bodies of water.
The company acted quickly to counter these environmental threats. Wastewater treatment plants were built and established among Metro Manila’s riverbanks and crucial areas, where this water would be treated and returned to the rivers clean and capable of supporting marine life. Septic tank desludging was introduced as a service to customers, allowing them to proactively schedule accordingly. The Lakbayan tour, a free walking tour of the company’s water and wastewater sites, allows anyone to single-handedly experience how the environment is key to the company’s efforts.
This 2012, the Toka Toka campaign is launched, the first-ever wastewater campaign in the country. This aims to get people directly involved in preserving the environment by doing its own part in waste segregation, and preventing this waste from reaching the rivers. This movement will be supported government, non-government, and private organizations, making it one of the biggest environmental campaigns ever.
After 15 years of service, Manila Water remains dedicated to its customers and the environment, as it gears toward a clean, clear, and sustainable future for everyone.