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Life in Metro Manila just became a lot more unlivable. Since Tuesday, water rationing has begun.

Rationing, of course, is just a euphemism. For many communities, this means the taps will be dry.

Although the rainy season has officially begun, rainfall has been sparse. The dams that supply us water are nearing critical level.

If rains do not come in a week, Metro Manila, with its teeming millions, will be a desert. Last Tuesday, the National Water Resources Board reduced supply from the dams to the water concessionaries.

In turn, the concessionaires reduced water pressure levels. What that means is that communities sitting in higher ground will probably not be getting any water at all.

If this carries on for a few more days, even the water trucks we have will not suffice to supply the communities that need it. Prepare for an exodus of the urban population.

The water crisis is worse than it has ever been. This is a strange city.

The main commuter rail line operates a fleet of buses to deal with passenger overflow. The companies entrusted with water distribution operate a fleet of water trucks.

The last element to complete the misery is power supply. Over the past few weeks, yellow and red alerts have been raised as our power reserves thin.

All it takes is for a major power generator to fail and the city will not only be choked and dry but dark as well. Metro Manila, with its creaking infrastructure and the bizarre way it is governed, is not about to be named among the world's most livable cities.

That will not happen in our lifetime. But that is not an excuse to do nothing.


All the problems we now face are due to overreliance on outdated infrastructure that we should have started addressing years ago. Recall that time when then president Benigno Aquino III was asked about traffic congestion at Edsa.

He did not go through a list of things that need to be done. Instead, he dismissed the question by saying the congestion was a sign of progress.

" It is that sort of attitude that brought us to this hell. Metro Manila relies on one small and antiquated dam for 98 percent of its water supply.

Worse, Angat Dam lies astride a fault line, making it vulnerable to a dam break. The situation ought to have been understood as anomalous decades ago.

Yet nothing was done about it. No administration profits politically from undertaking a project of long gestation.

Whoever decides to do so invests much political capital dealing with opposition from environmentalists and the usual noisemakers complaining about incurring debt for project financing. Yet the project, when it is finally done will yield accolades from the successor administration and not from the real proponents.

Our politics does not reward far-sighted administration. The Duterte administration has correctly chosen to address our strategic deficiency in infrastructure.

Last year, for the first time ever, a Philippine government invested over 5 percent of GDP in infra. Yet, last month, some Bayan Muna mouthpiece criticized the infra program for only creating construction jobs in the short term.

Surprisingly, the media uncritically reported such a stupid comment without contesting it. The witless rabble-rouser who said that should now explain why, by the latest SWS results, we have the lowest self-rated poverty ever.

He should be sent to a seminar on "multiplier effects." Government did the right thing privatizing the water concessions.

That opened the door to massive investments in distribution efficiency, a lowering of non-revenue water and improved water delivery. Yet no one saw any urgency in building additional raw water sources such as the Kaliwa River Dam.

Not enough regulatory pressure was applied on the concessionaires to invest in new raw water sources. Instead, responding to populist agitation, bureaucrats pressured the concessionaires to postpone raising water tariffs as provided for in the contracts.

Consequently, government lost international arbitration cases on precisely this issue. Why the city dries up, our politicians are wasting crucial energy hyperventilating about a minor maritime mishap.

They should be pressing for action on urgent infra issues that matter hugely to the quality of life of the people who inhabit this unplanned metropolis. Our political class is the enemy of the basic comforts our people want.


During the eighties, I consulted with the United Nations University on comparing development issues in Southeast Asia. I was constantly embarrassed meeting with colleagues in the region, bearing our six-year "medium-term plan.

" Everyone else had a 30-year development plan that they updated annually. We have always had among the shortest planning horizon for a developing country.

Asked by my colleagues why we had only a six-year plan, I sheepishly replied: "Because that is the term of the President." That was a non-answer.

With nothing more than a six-year plan to work with, it has always been difficult to imagine strategic infrastructure planning that gestates for a much longer time. It has always been difficult to ensure continuity in development programs.

Consequently, it was always difficult to attract long-term investments into our economy. The investment community was always worried priorities and programs might be discontinued.

As a result, we attracted mainly carpetbaggers out to make a quick profit and go. In this regard, no one was more damaging to the sustainability of our progress than Aquino III.

He started his administration by cancelling the plans and projects of his predecessor and then compounded that by initiating no new strategic initiative. That is a betrayal.
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Publication:Philippines Star (Manila, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Jun 19, 2019
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