A labor group, Partido Manggagawa (PM), on Wednesday called on the government to consider re-nationalizing public utilities involved in the delivery of essential services in the face of deteriorating condition particularly in water and power services.
The call was in response to President Duterte’s pronouncement that he may utilize his emergency powers, which include taking over a public utility, to address the looming water crisis in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
“We agree that the President has that power granted solely to him by the Constitution, but utilizing it by piecemeal to confront manifold crisis situations may not be the best solution. Worse if that immense power is utilized, all by himself, to advance a private or another nation’s interest against the failed incumbents in the industry,” stated PM spokesman Wilson Fortaleza.
Fortaleza said his group is for the re-nationalization of the essential public services particularly water and power which have been privatized in the late 80s and 90s.
“Escalating rates and diminishing supplies can best describe the situation in these industries and two decades of privatization has failed to address these problems,” explained Fortaleza, adding that “it is both a supply, access and affordability crises that the whole government must head on.”
According to the group, aside from cost which is among the highest in the region and in the world, some 10 million Filipinos are still without access to electricity, while nearly seven million out of 105 million Filipinos, rely on unimproved, unsafe and unsustainable water sources and more than 24 million lack access to improved sanitation, according to published reports.
“We have long been under a water and energy emergency and it was the whole government and its long time economic adviser, the World Bank, who advised this confused nation to bite the bitter pills by embracing privatization and liberalization so that this crises, including chronic poverty, will end. Where we are today is therefore the full responsibility of the whole government,” stressed Fortaleza.
The group also called on Congress to make its own moves to address this problem otherwise it prefers to be presumed by the people as a constant ally of industry oligarchs. Fortaleza said it was all Congress who paved the way for the privatization of the Manila Water and Sewerage System (MWSS) in 1997, oil deregulation in 1998, and power privatization in 2001.
“It is time for Congress to conduct a summation of our privatization experience, draw hard lessons from it, and bind the President to a judicious exercise of emergency powers when needed. We will not challenge our lawmakers to repent. But they may consider this demand for re-nationalization as institutional redemption to rectify decades of injustice,” said Fortaleza.
New model of re-nationalization
The Partido Manggagawa, however, is pushing for a new concept of re-nationalization and not simply a return to the old corrupt setup of state monopoly.
“By re-nationalization we mean of more social control over utilities as against monopolization and superprofit motivation; of more democracy rather than policies imposed from the top,” argued Fortaleza, adding that, “Current and future developments in these sectors are leading towards more local, decentralized and distributed systems.”
A nationalized utility, the group said, must now involve democratic participation of unions, cooperatives, and communities that they serve.
Fortaleza, who is also a fellow for Center for Power Issues and Initiatives (CPII) which promotes the shift to renewable energy and energy democracy, argued finally that manifold crisis situations is better addressed with more people being involved in the conceptualization, planning, implementation, and decision-making processes.
Contact: Wilson Fortaleza
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