Soldiers deployed to prevent riots over water

MANILA, Philippines—The government is deploying soldiers and civilian personnel to restore order and avert any riot in at least 177 barangays in Metro Manila now grappling with a water shortage, officials said Thursday.

The “warm bodies” from the National Disaster Coordinating Council will man water stations and maintain order in water rationing in these areas, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said.

Arresting residents illegally tapping water by puncturing water lines is also part of their job, he added.

“We have asked the help of the secretary of the national defense as chair of the NDCC (National Disaster Coordinating Council) to provide warm bodies so that there is more order in the distribution of this water tankering,” he said.

Reports of residents muscling their way through long queues at water pumps or scrambling to get to water tankers have become a source of concern for government officials.

“I don’t think [there will be riots]. That’s why we have anticipated and asked for warm bodies to put order,” Singson told reporters at a Malacañang news briefing.

Some 1,120,000 residents in those 177 barangays either have no water or have a water only for six hours or less a day owing to the low water level at the Angat Dam in Bulacan, the main source of water for the metropolis.

The affected areas are Caloocan, Quezon City, Manila, Parañaque, Las Piñas, Malabon, Valenzuela and Navotas.

But thanks to Wednesday night’s rain, the water level in Angat has slightly risen by 70 cm to 158.88 meters as of Thursday morning, according to Singson.

“There has been a good rainfall in Angat and in the Ipo area but not as much in the La Mesa Dam area. So that’s the bit of good news,” he said.

This, however, is still way off the 180 meter level, where the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and the National Irrigation Administration can implement their normal allocation of water for domestic use and irrigation.

With more rain in the coming weeks, the water shortage in some parts of the metropolis populated by 12 million people would ease, according to the public works secretary.

“As I’ve pointed out, the water level has not deteriorated. It has in fact increased. So we hope that this will continue. And hopefully, the worst is over,” he said.

In July 1992, the water level in Angat rose by 15 meters in 15 days after heavy rains, according to Singson.

“The heavy rainfall in that area could significantly increase the water level,” he said.

Another positive fact is that Maynilad Water Services Inc., the concessionaire servicing the severely affected western zone of the metropolis, is producing 1,884 million liters a day, higher than its lowest production level of 1,686 MLD on July 17. Its normal production is 2,400 MLD, Singson said.

“That’s my basis for saying that we think the worst situation is over,” he said.

On Thursday, officials ruled out anew the declaration of a state of calamity, the creation of a water crisis committee, or the designation of President Aquino as the country’s “water czar.”

“It’s isolated in certain parts of Metro Manila. I feel that a state of calamity might mobilize some additional funds, and this is already being addressed by the two concessionaires and other branches of government. If the state of calamity can give us more water in Angat, I would go for it. But obviously they can’t do much in increasing supply in Angat,” Singson said.

Secretary Edwin Lacierda, presidential spokesperson, agreed. “To declare a state of calamity will not change the situation.”

Lacierda said that Singson was on top of the situation, and creating a water crisis committee or designating Mr. Aquino as water czar was unnecessary.

Instead of such a committee, the government has asked the MWSS to activate “action centers.”

Pending the arrival of rainfall that would normalize the level of water in Angat, Malacañang appealed to the private sector to donate bottled mineral water, or even sponsor the delivery of water tankers to affected barangays “in the spirit of volunteerism.”

“We’re also calling on the public to conserve water especially in areas not affected by the water shortage,” Lacierda added.

Meanwhile, the government continued to mobilize more than 100 water trucks to the severely affected barangays, and to mount cloud-seeding operations to induce rain.

Maynilad and the other water concessionaire, Manila Water Co., were contributing P3.1 million for the operations, which “is good for about 70 flying hours,” according to Singson.

The two concessionaires had also worked out a “cross-border arrangement” whereby Manila Water would augment Maynilad’s water supply by 40 million liters a day, benefiting 100,000 residents.

The two concessionaires were also working out ways with local health officials to prevent the outbreak of any ailment in the water-less areas, he said.

“Aside from that starting tonight, Maynilad –- and we expect that Manila Water will also do the same during the off-peak hours – will provide water trucks to be able to clean public facilities, school buildings, toilets of school buildings, hospitals… public markets and the other facilities that will need cleaning,” he added.

Singson stressed the need for the government to study “with due diligence” proposals to tap Wawa Dam and Laiban Dam, among others, as a source of water for the metropolis, and to draw up a water supply and sanitation roadmap to “avoid water shortage.”

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