Water firms ask SC to recall nearly P2-B fine for Clean Water Act breach
MANILA, Philippines — Water concessionaires Maynilad Water Services Inc., and Manila Water Company have asked the Supreme Court to reverse its August ruling ordering them to pay fines of almost P2 billion for non-compliance with Republic Act 9275 or the Philippine Clean Water Act.
In separate motions, the water firms told the high court that the requirement to implement the connectivity of sewage systems in a short period of five years would not only cause an increase in water rates as it would also result in a lot of drillings that may paralyze traffic.
The August ruling of the Supreme Court directed Maynilad and Manila Water as well as regulator Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) to complete in five years the wastewater treatment facilities and connect sewage lines in all establishments, including households, to an available sewerage system within five years as stated under Section 8 of the Philippine Clean Water Act (CWA).
But Manila Water, in its motion for reconsideration said “the law does not provide a timeframe for this purpose and leaves it to the Department of Health (DOH) to formulate the guidelines for the establishment of a complete centralized sewerage system.”
“Under the Concession Agreement between MWSS and Manila Water, a complete centralized sewerage system was targeted by 2037,” said Manila Water said its 56-page appeal.
“Maynilad respectfully submits that this Honorable Court could not, and should not, shy away from its duty of obeying the Manila Bay Judgment (insofar as it gives the MWSS and the concessionaires until 2037 to complete the obligations under Section 8 of the CWA),” said Maynilad in its 158-page motion for reconsideration.
The 2008 Manila Bay judgment has ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other concerned government agencies to restore Manila Bay to a condition suitable for public bathing and swimming, and for breeding bangus (milkfish) and similar fish species.
The Manila Bay judgment, according to Maynilad, has attained finality, and the Supreme Court “is bound by its own pronouncements, specifically the interpretation that the obligations under Sec. 8 of the CWA are continuing, and the 2037 deadline fixed therefore constitutes a binding judicial precedent.”
“Inevitably, the assailed decision results in the violation of Maynilad’s constitutional rights to due process and equality before the law. Accordingly, the fines should be lifted, or at the very least tempered and or mitigated, so as to ensure fairness and justice, as well as to incentivize, rather than stymie, compliance with the CWA,” Maynilad said.
Both concessionaires pointed out that folding-in 40 years of sewer network development into five years will bring forth dire and unintended consequences.
According to Manila Water, in order to comply with the five-year deadline, there will be “extensive construction and excavation works on city streets” that “are expected to worsen traffic conditions in Metro Manila.”
It also said that accelerated spending of the company to comply with the high court’s order would translate to an increase in the price of water by P26.70 per cubic meter – a 780.18 percent hike from prevailing water rates today.
For Maynilad, compliance with the Supreme Court order would mean laying down of sewer lines with a total length of 424,283 meters within five years.
“Even assuming that this is humanly possible given such distance and time period, traffic within the affected areas would have to be at a complete standstill in order to accommodate the excavation works necessary to lay down the said sewer lines,” claimed Maynilad.
Manila Water then noted that the responsibility of a centralized sewerage system should not be pinned solely to the water concessionaires because the law operates under a framework of “collective responsibility.”
The petitioner said other government agencies such as DENR, the Department of Health, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH, and local government units also have obligations under Section 8 of the Clean Water Act.
Maynilad said the Supreme Court decision singled out water concessionaires for supposed non-performance of its obligation under Section 8 of CWA although the fulfillment of such task is dependent also on the performance of the concerned government agencies with respect to their obligations under the law.
It also pointed out that aside from government agencies, private third parties’ actions and inactions have also contributed to the legal impossibility of strict compliance with Section 8 of CWA as mandated by the Supreme Court ruling.
These include the refusal of establishments and households to have their existing sewerage lines connected to available sewerage systems as well as refusal of commercial and industrial establishments to install pre-treatment facilities needed before interconnection.
Manila Water and Maynilad said they do not have the coercive powers to compel these establishments to allow the connection of sewage lines. /kga
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