Cover Story


Laguna LGUs stand up against corporate greed

Jun 11, 2024, 1:16 AM
OpinYon News Team

OpinYon News Team

News Reporter

Last month, it was the city government of San Pedro, Laguna. This June, it’s the towns of Los Baños and Bay who are now standing up against corporate giants who have failed to provide their mandate to consumers.

Last month, it was the city government of San Pedro, Laguna. This June, it’s the towns of Los Baños and Bay.

What’s common about these LGUs? They are now all standing up against corporate giants who have failed to provide their mandate to consumers.

Last week, the towns of Los Baños and Bay took separate, but related, actions to force the concessionaire handling their water supply – the Laguna Water District Aquatech Resources Corporation (LARC) – to either improve their services or face sanctions.

While apparently not as “extreme” as the San Pedro City LGU’s decision to request the San Pedro Water District to rescind its joint venture agreement (JVA) with PrimeWater Infrastructure, Corp. (Councilor Vivi Villegas, for instance, informed OpinYon Laguna that they are now asking for documents from PrimeWater as part of the San Pedro City council’s moves to review the JVA), the actions of these two LGUs in Laguna’s second district show a deep and growing dissatisfaction, and possibly disillusionment, about the promises of these giant business conglomerates.

These actions may also serve to demolish the pervasive myth that privatization of public utilities will result in better service.

To recall, OpinYon Laguna, in June 2023, had first reported a "water apocalypse" faced by residents of Los Baños and Bay due to frequent service interruptions in LARC's service area.

Fast forward a year, and it's becoming clear that LGUs serviced by LARC (though “serviced” sounds laughable given their frequent interruptions) had had enough.

Complaint to LWUA

The first salvo came from the municipal government of Bay, which announced that it had filed a complaint with the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), expressing its "deep concerns and dissatisfaction" with LARC's services.

In a letter sent to LWUA on May 30 and published in its social media page last June 3, Bay Mayor Jose Padrid lambasted the continuous water service interruptions that "have been severely affecting our residents for more than a year now, and the situation has become untenable."

Since June 2023, Padrid pointed out, the LGU has had to step in and initiate water rationing services in areas affected by frequent service interruptions in LARC’s service area. (Remember how the San Pedro City LGU also had to step in and conduct water rationing whenever PrimeWater’s services became unavailable?)

Not only that, the mayor alleged that "we have not received any response to that communication [Mayor Padrid's letter to LARC in June 2023], nor have we observed any tangible improvements in service delivery aside from their updates posted in their social media page that they are improving their lines."

This has forced the LGU to not issue a business permit and mayor's permit last April, in an apparent move to force LARC to shape up or else.

OpinYon Laguna has reached out to Mayor Padrid's office regarding their letter to LWUA.

Los Baños, too

Meanwhile, Los Baños Mayor Anthony “Ton” Geniuno, who was also quoted by OpinYon Laguna in its June 2023 article that its issues with LARC amounted to a “crisis,” said he has initiated a “fact-finding committee” to probe the continuous complaints made by residents of Barangay Putho-Tuntungin regarding LARC's service.

Like in the case of San Pedro City, for instance, the Los Baños LGU has decided to review the JVA between Laguna Water and LARC, as it considers possible “sanctions” against the water provider.

“Right now, we are definitely penalizing them. Hindi pwedeng lilipas na lang ito, dahil malaking perwisyo ang ginawa nila for the past year, tapos tuluy-tuloy pa ang paniningil nila sa mga tao. Hindi na iyan tama,” Genuino stressed in an interview with OpinYon Laguna.

"Ever since pumasok ang LARC sa Los Baños, unti-unti nang nag-deteriorate ang serbisyo ng tubig dito sa bayan namin. But the worst was last year, nang umabot nang over two weeks na walang tubig ang ilang residente natin," he added.

New water source

In the meantime, Geniuno said that the LGU has found a “stable” underground water source in Barangay Putho-Tuntungin that it could use as an alternative source during emergencies.

That underground water source can now provide water suitable for washing or cleaning, although Genuino said the LGU has worked on making the water safe for cooking, if not for drinking.

“Mas mabilis na tayong nakakapagrasyon ng tubig dahil sa water source na ito. Dati-rati, fire trucks ang ginagamit natin na pang-rasyon, pero dalawa lang ang fire trucks natin at kaya lang nilang magrasyon ng pitong pamilya at a time,” he noted.

Under new management?

Meanwhile, last Thursday, June 6, LARC dropped a bombshell: it will soon be under a new management.

In a statement issued on social media, LARC announced that Manila Water Philippine Ventures (MWPV) has acquired 70 percent of the shares of Equipacific HoldCo Inc., which in turn holds 90 percent of LARC's outstanding shares.

MWPV is a subsidiary of the Manila Water Company, Inc., a subsidiary of business tycoon Enrique Razon's Trident Water Holdings Company, Inc.

The transition period started last April 21, after which a "new management" from MWPV will be appointed.

"Batid ng MWPV ang mga reklamong inihain patungkol sa LARC. Masusi nang sinusuri ng MWPV ang bigat ng mga isyung ito upang makabuo ng Service Improvement Plan na permanenteng magreresolba ng naturang mga hamon," according to the official statement.

Fingers are now crossed on whether this new development will mitigate, if not completely eliminate, the problems hounding residents of Los Baños and Bay.

It’s also up to the LGUs now to keep the pressure on LARC’s new owner to fulfill its mandate, as well as ensuring accountability for LARC’s failures.

#WeTakeAStand #OpinYon #LagunaLGUs #WaterServiceProvider #OpinYonCoverStory

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