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Why the Palace doesn’t serve tap water


By Paterno Esmaquel II, GMA News
Newsbreak’s Maggie de Pano Fellow

Keeping water safe after the meter is a big challenge

MANILA, Philippines—If the government-led committee on Metro Manila water quality is to be believed, tap water from Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water Company Inc. is safe to drink. The Palace itself, however, seems unconvinced.

Its actions speak louder than words: the Office of the President doesn’t serve tap water.

Isabel Javier, Malacañang’s director for Internal House Affairs, says the Palace opts to serve bottled or filtered water in its day-to-day activities. Such has always been the case, Javier says.

PNoy drinking water

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III takes a break by drinking a glass of water in his speech at the joint programme on World Water Day Celebrations and Millennium Development Goal Achievement on March 22, 2011. (Photo by: Gil Nartea / Malacanang Photo Bureau).

Two staff members of the Malacañang Socials Office, which handles Palace social functions such as state dinners and vins d’ honneur, confirm this. “Eh kasi hindi naman siya safe inumin, ‘di ba? (It’s unsafe to drink, isn’t it?)” explains Socials Office staff member Girlie Recinto.

“Ewan ko sa iba kung uso pa ang tap water (I’m not sure if other people still drink tap water),” adds her colleague Marivic Manlapig. “Kasi ‘di ba marami nang nasira ang tiyan dahil sa maruming tubig (Isn’t it that people get stomach problems from it)?”

Malacañang’s water supplier, Maynilad, regularly gets positive certifications from the Metro Manila Drinking Water Quality Monitoring Committee (MMDWQMC), a multi-sectoral committee mandated to monitor the quality of tap water in Metro Manila and surrounding areas.

Both Maynilad and Manila Water cite the MMDWQMC’s findings to vouch for the potability of their water supplies–that is, until they reach a customer’s water meter. From this point, the two concessionaires explain, water order viagra online uk quality becomes the customer’s responsibility generic viagra overnight shipping (See: Tap water in Metro a lot cleaner now, say experts).

A multi-sectoral committee certifies water as safe until a households water meter from which point a customer is already responsible for keeping water safe. (Photo by Hub Pacheco)

A multi-sectoral committee certifies water as safe until a households water meter from which point a customer is already responsible for keeping water safe. (Photo by Hub Pacheco)

Problems and health-related concerns on tap water begin here, says Caloocan Rep. Mary Mitzi Cajayon, who inspected water services as part of the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Clean Water Act.

Based on her own review of water treatment processes, Cajayon is certain that Maynilad and Manila Water subject their resources to proper treatment. But the solon notes, “Yung pinagdadaanan, tapos ‘yung ibang connection ng establishment, hindi ka nakakasiguro (The water pipes and the other connections of an establishment leave us uncertain).”

Restos should serve ‘clean’ water

Cajayon speaks from first-hand experience. The congresswoman, who comes from a poor family, contracted typhoid fever while in elementary grade and twice suffered amoebiasis later in life. Both are water-borne diseases. Cajayon says her family used to drink tap water when she was a child.

She is now advocating the public’s right to potable water, particularly in dining establishments.

In the 15th Congress, Cajayon filed House Bill 2341 that seeks “to require all establishments offering dining services to serve safe drinking water.”

Water is not only used for drinking but also for cooking. How sure are we that the water in our food is safe? Photo by Hub Pacheco

The bill requires restaurants and other eating places to serve

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only purified water to their customers. “In cases when purified drinking water is not available, dining establishments shall be required to serve or provide instead bottled water to their clients free of charge,” says Cajayon’s proposed legislation.

Her bill does not categorize tap water as “safe,” explains one of Cajayon’s staff members, Amado Cosido.

It defines safe drinking water as that which is “sufficiently free from biological, chemical, radiological, or physical impurities, such that individuals will not be exposed to disease or harmful physiological effects upon consumption.”

The bill also mandates local government units (LGUs), assisted by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), to check if dining establishments comply with these requirements.

Cajayon notes that in the current set-up, dining establishments do not strictly comply with the Sanitation Code of the Philippines in terms of water safety. Signed by then-President Ferdinand Marcos in 1975, the Sanitation Code, or Presidential Decree No. 856, is a set of standards on public health and sanitation.

Cosido says the public cannot simply “rely” on dining establishments to provide them with safe drinking water, thus the need for Cajayon’s bill.

The proposed law will require violators to pay a fine of P10,000 to P50,000, with the possibility of having their business permits and licenses revoked.

Responsible parties after the meter

A bill like this is unnecessary, however, a health department official says.

“Kaya nga nire-regulate mo ‘yung mga service providers…para sabihin mong talagang ang pino-provide nila is quality water (But that is why we regulate service providers…to assure the public that they provide them with quality water),” says Engr. Joselito Riego de Dios, chief health program officer of the DOH Environmental and Occupational Health Office.

Riego de Dios points out that at least two other laws protect water after the meter, too, from possible contamination. These are the National Building Code of the Philippines, or Republic Act (RA 6541), and the Plumbing Law, or RA 1378.

Keeping water safe
Pinky Tobiano, a chemist and founder of the independent water laboratory Qualibet Testing Services Corp., describes the task of keeping water safe as a “50-50 shared responsibility” between water suppliers and water users.

What can serve as the public’s share?
Read More

Both commercial and residential establishments are covered by the Building Code and the Plumbing Law, adds Riego de Dios.

The Building Code, signed by then-President Ferdinand Marcos in viagra and nitrous oxide 1972, sets minimum standards and requirements for buildings and other structures “to safeguard life, health, property, and public welfare.”

The Plumbing Law, signed by then-President Ramon Magsaysay in 1955, regulates the practice of plumbing by setting basic principles for

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the trade (See sidebar).

Plumbing facilities in all buildings for human habitation should conform with the Plumbing Law, according to the Building Code. Plumbing systems include pipes and drainage systems that could cause water contamination.

Thus, to acquire a building permit, any building “has to be designed or constructed under the supervision of a licensed engineer,” says Riego de Dios. “Kaya nga pati ‘yung plano, may plumbing plans (That’s why the building plan should also include

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plumbing plans),” he adds.

Building officials of LGUs are tasked to

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implement both the Building Code and the Plumbing Law, according to Riego de Dios.

For commercial establishments such as restaurants, he says the Sanitation Code also comes into play. “So dapat ‘yung local health office, as part nu’ng regulating the business, tinitingnan din nila ‘yung tubig na isine-serve nu’ng restaurant (So the local health office, as part of regulating the business, should also monitor the water that a restaurant serves).”

Government’s limitations

This is easier said than done for the government, however.

Hindi mo masasabing hundred percent of the local government units, namo-monitor ‘yung mga operations ng establishments (We cannot say 100 percent of the local government units get to monitor the operations of establishments),” says Riego de Dios.

Drinking establishments need to serve safe drinking water to their customers, says Caloocan City Rep. Mary Mitzi Cajayon. (Photo by Hub Pacheco)

Drinking establishments need to serve safe drinking water to their customers, says Caloocan City Rep. Mary Mitzi Cajayon. (Photo by Hub Pacheco)

He particularly cites the difficulties in implementing the Sanitation Code provisions on commercial establishments.

May limitation sa tao, sa number ng sanitary inspectors. Eh sa dami ng establishment, hindi mo mamo-monitor lahat ‘yun (There is a limitation in terms of personnel, of the number of sanitary inspectors. With the sheer number of establishments, you cannot easily monitor them),” he says.

He also attributes the problem to a lack of funds and other administrative concerns.

May limitation in terms of water quality testing. May limitation sa availability ng water laboratories, ‘yung mga gano’n (There are limitations in terms of water quality testing. There are also limitations in the availability of water laboratories, things like that),” he adds.

Bureaucratic quagmire

The issue of potable water transcends individual

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consumers, water suppliers like Maynilad and Manila Water, regulators such as the MMDWQMC, and local government units. “Malawak ang water eh (Water is a wide subject),” says Engr. Leonardo Liongson, professor at the University of the Philippines Institute of Civil Engineering.

Liongson, who also holds a doctorate in water resource administration and hydrology, explains water potability in the context of the other uses of water. In a diagram (see below), he illustrates how domestic water supply and sanitation (“water for life”), which are used for drinking, interacts with water meant for other functions (“water for food,” “water for the economy,” and “water for the environment”).

Liongson explains that in the long run, pollutants in one area can contaminate domestic supplies and make them more expensive to treat. He categorizes the kamagra vs cialis vs viagra major pollutants as industrial, or those from factories and the like; domestic, or those from poor wastewater disposal; and agricultural, or those from pesticides and other farming chemicals.

The government agencies that should deal with water-related issues are varied, Liongson says–“by turf, by mandate, by budget, even by discipline, by knowledge, by technology.”

He likens the government agencies concerned with water safety to the different instruments in an orchestra. “You have to have a good conductor.”

Liongson says, “It becomes a leadership issue.”

Personal responsibility

What’s the public supposed to do?

Households, at least, can protect tap water from contamination by adhering to the prescribed plumbing and water storage requirements under the Building Code and the Plumbing Law, according to Riego de Dios.

Jeric Sevilla, head of Manila Water’s corporate communications division, cites the example of households in depressed communities that lay their household pipes the wrong way.

“They can either get kung sinu-sinong mga fly-by-night contractors, o ‘yung mga tubero na a lot of them, lalo na sa mga depressed communities, dumadaan ‘yung mga linya, tumatawid sa mga kanal, tumatawid sa mga drainage (They can get practically any fly-by-night contractor or plumber who will then let their pipelines run across canals or drainages). And it’s poorly constructed or poorly installed,” he says.

The head of Maynilad’s Central Laboratory, Teresita Mancera, meanwhile cautions the public against illegal connections that may contaminate water in homes that share the same pipelines. “Report illegal connections. And if you see a leak, report it also to us,” Mancera says.—Newsbreak


(The series was produced under the Maggie de Pano Fund for Investigative Reporting on Health. The Fund, which is managed by Newsbreak, is made possible through a grant from Macare Medicals, Inc.)

  1. Today is the 39th anniversary of martial law and Newsbreak talks about dirty water in our faucet. What a cop-out from a publication which claims to be independent and credible.

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