Monday, September 22, 2008

Struggle for water that benefited a municipality

Uploaded by peterahon

16 February 2006

Vangie is the president of Kasiglahan Village 1 Action Group, a position she held since they were relocated in 2001. They were uprooted to a distant place in Montalban, away from their source of livelihood by the Pasig River. When they arrived the relocation site was a virtual wasteland. They were provided with just a skeletal structure of a house, devoid of the basic services of a decent community.

She considers the consummation of their long struggle on the issue of water rights as one of her biggest fulfillment as a leader. When they were relocated by the government they were told that it is impossible for them to be provided with water system. A challenge she and her members never gave up.

“I feel so much relieved since I don’t get mad anymore to prod my brothers to fetch water for the family. It had been a constant cause of irritation among us siblings. Today my brothers have more free time and not tied up here at home fetching water for our use. Good thing also they now have job” quips Vangie.

Before, she used to bathe with a single pail of water because it is expensive. The water source is also distant from their house. Today, for her morning ritual, Vangie cleans their porch with water where their dogs sleep. Vangie related, “It is a convenience for us to have water. My old and sickly mom is spared from fetching water, she just have to ensure that our containers are full by filling them from the gushing faucet.”

History of Struggle

San Jose Builders is the developer of the village. They used to supply the village with water for just only an hour. The first 30 minutes water is thrown because it is dirty and smelly, then after, the next 30 minutes the villagers get cleaner water to use only for washing and cleaning.

A water container commonly used in the community contains 5 gallons of water. It is priced at least PhP 30.00/container. When water got so expensive and commercialized some people went on building their shallow wells that became a business of non-relocatees (those who had purchased their house and lot).

Discussion with NHA

Vangie related the countless meetings with NHA and discussions with the developer. People rejected the water supply provided by San Jose builders since it is of poor quality not fit for drinking and cooking. They even made several lobby with the National Anti-Poverty Commission forcing GMA in a dialogue with them in 2002 to commit PhP 5.5 M for their water system.

Some members suggested to have shallow wells but they observed that during the season of El Nino and summer time the wells dry up so the group did not pursue and decided to have water supplied by a water company.

Vangie is proud to say that through their advocacy not only their organization but even those non-relocatees who live in the village benefited from her group’s effort. “Even the whole town gets water as well when the pipes were laid from its source passing by several places to our village”, she beamed.

When Private Firm Listened to People’s Organizations

One concern of the people was the exorbitant connection fee pegged at PhP 7,393.00. But for Vangie the real bottle neck was with NHA asking the relocates to pay 50% of their unpaid housing loan amortization since 1999. Which on an average a family or house owner should pay NHA at least PhP 5,000.00.

The National Housing Authority (NHA) of Montalban in its attempt to force relocatees to pay their housing loan made all effort in preventing the people to get water connection. They could only be given water connection if they get barangay clearance and certification from NHA. The NHA having talked with the barangay and water company required the people to comply with their mandate. This was questioned by the group asking for NHA’s policy on water connection for the relocatees which the agency could not produce.

In November 2006, Manila Water begun installing waterpipes in the village. “We know we have to pay our obligations but also it is our right to have water and NHA should not prevent us from availing that service” claimed Vangie. So the Homeowners Association (HOA) presidents of the village and other groups made a stand “Tubig muna bago bayad sa bahay” (“Water first before housing payment”). It was a consensus made by the people. A general assembly to make the people aware of the issue on water was held. Vangie was instrumental in facilitating it.

With these effort of the people and the NHA Project Office in Montalban had to offer lower amortization fees. The HOA presidents even met with Mayor________ to bring their concerns . Vangie, the only woman and being the most vocal argued in the meeting that it has been the government’s backlog of providing them water service for the last 6 years of their being relocated. She made an appeal to the mayor that because one person is not able to pay amortization all the rest of the residents gets persecuted. They asked the mayor for the policy but he can’t also produce it. Dok, one of the most active KV1 members even presented to the mayor the Urban Development Housing Act (UDHA) on the rights of the relocates, but unaware of the existence of such law. To settle the issue the Mayor asked them to just pay NHA a minimum PhP 1,000.00. Vangie related that one of the HOA presidents gave up on their consensus, but she remained steadfast with the agreement they made to the people. Nothing came out of the meeting.

“If electricity could be pilfered using a jumper, how much more with water that is easy and not as dangerous to tap”, was the threat of the people. This was the message brought by the people to the main office of Manila Water when they were told that only those who applied and paid NHA will be given water. The people reasoned out that if they will provide water service and in the situation were people could not pay they can always cut their service. But with NHA, housing is fixed through the period of time, and their service won’t be cut and removed. The people wanted for Manila Water to understand that not all them are with permanent employment. But since they live there they will definitely not run from their obligations.

By December, Manila Water applicants were only 400 mostly private homeowners or non-relocatees which is not the bulk of residents of the village totaling to more than 10,000. But at the end it was through the constant lobby lead by Vangie and Dok that prevailed. “On my part it is so unfair that these people who are not even members of our organizations would complain to me why water is not yet available to think they didn’t even contribute a single centavo at the least to our expenses, or their time and effort as the case maybe. It is distressing.”, complained by Vangie.

Manila Water approached the organization to provide a masterlist of the villagers. They were asked to recruit 100 people to apply but KVI Action Group was able to send hundred plus of people that same day they asked them to have people apply for water connection with a no connection fee.

The next day a mob of residents went to Manila Waters then based and hosted at the compound of NHA. The NHA prevented the people from getting in their compound and apply for water connection. This cause more anger to NHA. Manila Water made an agreement to the villagers that application would be collected from the presidents of the HOA. But there were some problems in compliance since some of the HOA presidents were not fast enough to inform their residents and come-up with a masterlist.

Once again the requirement to get certification from NHA was invoked. Also, most people were not able to pay the PhP1,000.00 water connection fee, which was reduced to PhP600.00, still not so many people were willing to pay the amount, until finally it was reduced to PhP 300.00 only then the application peaked once again. Before the connection fee is one year to pay, but today it is three years to pay which is equivalent to the total amount of PhP 7,392.00.00. But Manila Water seems not able to provide residents with water meter base a necessary equipment for them to avail water service.

Water was available to most of the residents by Dec 16, a most welcome Christmast gift for the people to see the initial flow of water on their streets. By January 2007, connections even inside the house were available.
The water supply is plentiful at its designated time from 9 AM to 3 PM.

“CO Multiversity provided us with a lot of help. The organization is always available for help and assistance in all the dialogues especially with the Manila Water. It provided us support in strategizing and tacticizing.
On the personal level it is CO Multiversity that developed my self confidence and become a whole-person. Today, I can talk face to face and explain my position even a high ranking official. I now have a very strong confidence to voice out my opinions and ideas. I am also honing my skills at negotiations and quickly think of strategies” enthuse Vangie.

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