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The Manila Water Crisis: Who's Really at Fault?

We must learn to survive by coming through: by seeing how things begin with ourselves and end with ourselves.
IMAGE PEXELS
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We are in water crisis—scratch that, we are in crisis and we don’t know who to blame.

Blame it on El Niño for his dry, childish and self-deprecating humor, because apparently he strikes whenever someone needs to be blamed. Blame it on Manila Water for drawing more water than they should from La Mesa dam, or for putting inept people at the water wheel. Blame it on our government’s widely suspected collusion with the Chinese, whose pet Kaliwa Dam project (beautiful name, by the way) immediately gets more nods as the crisis eases into a larger footprint covering more and more of Manila day by day. Blame supply-and-demand. Blame short-term solutions. And—lest we forget—blame it on PNoy, of course, for putting us here, whatever this arid, unrecognizable place is now, in the first place.

The truth is, as of this writing, nobody really knows who to blame, and nobody really seems to know the truth. Not the journalists or the pundits, whose op-ed of the day must, by tradition, contain a pun or two in the likes of “wet blanket” or “water torture.” Not the usual Facebook know-it-alls, whose current recourse has been to repost some other know-it-all’s hypothesis. Not even, it may seem, Manila Water themselves, whose Facebook page now unscrolls into a tight cycle of explain, apologize, update, placate, in posts written in admirably matter-of-fact Tagalog that unfortunately highlights the one English term they use: operational adjustments.

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Social equalizer

As expected, the term has been roundly picked up, shackled in mocking quotes, and plastered with angry emojis, along with shreds of recycled and unfounded inside information and water interruption announcements written out in the softest possible font on the most placid blue background. We could go on, but then we would only be joining the angry, directionless—and uninformed—mob.

We could, by a not-so-long stretch, blame it on ourselves, for being uneducated voters who rooted for candidates on the basis of their looks or their bedside manner, who might then appoint government officials and regulators who might choose to look this way instead of that, and whose actions and decisions might affect the private sector utility companies. At the end of that long line, of course, is us, the great unwashed, lining up at snaking queues, squatting in our bathrooms filling up Orocan after Orocan as fast as we can before the next disruption.

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Starting today, we heard, the only water flowing in the vast houses in Forbes Park and other exclusive villages is in the tears of the matriarchs and the patriarchs, who never thought they would ever grip a tabo in their life. The Manila Water shortage has achieved the unique and enviable status of a social equalizer, arguably more than any natural disaster can.

Live through this

Many have recalled the electricity crisis that struck in the early '90s. Those of us who were there remember the almost audible wave of helplessness that descended on our cities whenever the power cut out. Interestingly, there are some who remember this national crisis wistfully, as though it were a bad event, like a war, that one simply had to live through.

But the truth is, wars are only remembered wistfully during peacetime, and more to the point, we shouldn’t really have to live through this.

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We don’t survive by living through. We must learn to survive by coming through: by seeing how things begin with ourselves and end with ourselves. By recognizing the bad cycles we create and the connections our actions make, and by learning how to make the right decisions and actions.

But it’s not too late. Perhaps now, we can finally learn to look outside of our echo chambers and our social media circles to find an answer to the very real question: who really is to blame? Which source can really be trusted? Who are the finger-pointers and who are the opportunists? Which is the rumor and which is the fact? What does the term “operational adjustments” really mean?

We also hear there’s a national election just around the corner, and that the water crisis might still be around by that time, which gives us a perfect opportunity to draw that crucial connection between who we vote for and who can do the real, actual work required of a leader. Or else, the crises will keep coming around and we’ll realize soon enough that our country is—*dry cough*—circling the drain.

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This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph.

* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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