Water for the people: Groups buck worsening water privatization

November 18, 2023

by IBON Foundation

The Water for the People Network (WPN) decried the increasing takeover of the country’s water resources by the private sector for harming communities and violating the right to water. Various water stakeholders gathering in a conference in Quezon City to study water privatization instead called for strengthening people’s control over resources as basic as water.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Center for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, People’s Alternative Media Network (AlterMidya), Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Konsyumer Para sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan (SUKI), IBON Foundation, Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG), Polytechnic University of the Philippines Center for Inclusiveness and Diversity (PUP CID), Alliance for Consumer Protection Bulacan (ACP) and the Water Systems Employees Response (WATER) co-sponsored the conference held at the CHR.

Metro Manila water privatization in 1997 which gave concession agreements to Maynilad and Manila Water companies has since been followed by hundreds of joint venture agreements (JVA) with private water firms in local water districts around the country.

This water privatization and commercialization has resulted in prohibitive water rates, poor supply, and lack of access to water according to urban poor, farmer, fisherfolk, women, indigenous people, and other advocacy groups aside from local water districts themselves. Former and current local water cooperative workers in JVAs with water firms of oligarchs such as Manuel Villar and Lucio Co also lamented the mismanagement, non-transparency and arbitrary termination of employees.

Water advocates questioned the JVAs and expressed concern that the looming creation of the Department of Water will only entrench water privatization and its problems. They also pointed out the folly of pushing private sector control of public services and utilities as contained in the administration’s Philippine Development Plan (PDP). Indigenous peoples groups and community advocates also hit destructive corporate megadam and reclamation projects.

The conference reviewed the country’s record in meeting the right to water, looked at past and pending water legislation, and discussed proposals for greater public participation in managing water resources.

Speakers included CHR Development Management Officer Victor Obanil, SUKI and WPN conveners Atty. Neri Colmenares and Prof. Reginald Vallejos, IBON Executive Director Sonny Africa, WATER Secretary General Ramir Corcolon and former Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Ferdinand Gaite. Spokespersons and officials from the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Pambansang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahirap, Network Opposed to Kaliwa, Kanan and Laiban Dams and Gabriela Women’s Alliance delivered updates.

The local water districts of San Jose Del Monte Bulacan, San Pablo City of Laguna, Negros and Davao also attended. Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT), Protect Sierra Madre and Amlig Negros shared ongoing campaigns and initiatives. Solidarity messages from fellow water advocates and allies such as KLIMA and Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment were also shared.

The conference concluded with the signing of the Filipino People’s Water Code that articulates issues and alternatives behind the WPN call “People’s Control Over People’s Resources.”