President Rodrigo Duterte has praised the Villars for building a real estate empire even as he lashed out anew at “oligarchs” whom he accused of controlling the country’s economy.
In his speech Tuesday evening, Duterte noted that the Villars started from scratch to build their real estate business, while he threatened to sue water utilities under the Ayala and Pangilinan groups with economic sabotage, claiming they earned huge profits when water supply was privatized.
“Villar started his housing at the sweat of his brow,” he said, referring to former Senate President Manuel Villar, who ran for president in 2010 but lost to Benigno Aquino III.
“Villar stayed long in the business, including Mrs. Villar, the senator. They worked hard,” Duterte added.
Duterte has acknowledged the Villars as campaign supporters, and appointed their son as Public Works secretary when he won the presidency in 2016.
Manuel “Manny” Villar is among the country’s richest, with a net worth of $6.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
In the same speech, Duterte was furious that water firms categorized water “not as a natural resource but as a commodity” in government contracts.
He also accused the Ayala group of not paying income taxes on their water utility, Manila Water Co.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore has ordered the government to pay Maynilad about P3.6 billion for losses and damages and recently P7.4 billion to Manila Water.
The water concessionaires brought the government to court after the government denied their petitions to increase water rates in their respective concession areas.
“In the contract, the water is categorized not as a natural resource but as a commodity. And in the contract, it’s not Republic of the Philippines. It's just being mentioned there’s an entity that has contract with Ayala and Pangilinan,” he said.
Duterte also said that Manila Water won its arbitration case against the government because the Ayala firm was in the same club as those on the arbitration panel.
“What’s worse is we cannot interfere because if we do, they will sue us and they would be awarded millions because they picked arbitration. And they are members of the arbitration in Singapore,” he said.