President Rodrigo Duterte said the country surrendered everything—including its sovereignty—when it entered into a water concession agreement with Manila Water and Maynilad in 1997.
The President also accused the two private utility companies of “economic plunder” and insisted the government would not pay them the P10.8 billion as ordered by a Singapore-based arbitration court.
“In that contract, if you read it, our country surrendered everything to Manila Water and to Maynilad. Everything, including the sovereignty,” he said during a briefing on the effects of Typhoon “Tisoy” in Albay.
“We have lost the sovereignty. We bargained it away,” President Duterte added.
Duterte said he would not comply with the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore ordering the government to pay Manila Water P7.39 billion and Maynilad P3.4 billion for their respective losses after they were not allowed to raise their prices.
“Don’t fool me, bitch. Don’t fuck with me. You tricked Filipinos with money. I said I will pursue this if this is the only thing I can achieve in this administration. I will really run after them, economic plunder,” the President said.
“This is a classic case of economic plunder. Nobody found it. I can only assume money really talks,” he added.
Maynilad and Manila Water distribute water in Metro Manila and nearby provinces under agreements signed with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System during the Ramos administration.
But a review by the Department of Justice revealed a dozen of “onerous” provisions in the concession agreements.
Duterte directed the Department of Justice to file charges against all those involved in the contracts with the utility firms, including their owners, legal counsels, and government lawyers for economic sabotage.
“I’ll file plunder. Plunder, Mr. Ayala, has no bail. You want to see a billionaire going to jail? All those jailed are poor members of the NPA [New People’s Army]. But this is it,” the President said.
He also said Filipinos have been shouldering the corporate income tax of the water utilities.
“It is money of the entire Republic of the Philippines. They are your constituents. Government money was used to pay your income tax. How can you say that only Metro Manila was affected? We paid for your taxes,” he said.
Two legislators on Friday backed Duterte’s position against the duopoly of Manila Water and Maynilad.
“If the MWSS water concessionaires believe they can wave around that arbitration ruling and think the decision is like a check they can encash at the bank, they are dead wrong. We in Congress will not allow these water firms to get billions of pesos in public funds for services not rendered or delivered poorly,” said Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr.
Garbin said the House will study legal remedies to address the situation.
“Congress has the power of the purse. Not a single centavo of public funds will go to Manila Water and Maynilad for that arbitration decision without Congress’ approval. In this situation, the legal authority must emanate from the House of Representatives. Add to this power, is the constitutional authority of Congress to regulate firms that perform public services,” Garbin said.
Meanwhile, Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera maintained that the two water concessionaires should be held accountable for the plumetting water pressure in the metropolis.
In April, Herrera wrote Duterte and Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo to suggest ways on how to enforce accountability and make water concessionaires liable for their failures in water services delivery.
“Congress would have failed the country if it allows Manila Water and Maynilad to get away with their disservice to the Filipino people while denying billions from other government priorities,” Garbin said. “A thorough review of the concession agreements is necessary.”
On Friday, Solicitor General Jose Calida on Friday said his office will exhaust all available remedies against the award recently made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore.
“Our next steps will show that the arbitral award was not, to quote Manila Water, due to a ‘procedural lapse’ by government. It is a company’s refusal to become the subject of a legitimate regulation,” he said.
“The OSG cannot just simply stand by and watch Manila Water spin the circumstances and paint itself as an exemplary, outstanding company.”
Calida questioned the company’s claim of having spent billions of pesos on infrastructure improvement since the contract was awarded in 1997.
“[W]e can only ask what the millions of Manila Water customers have been asking and complaining of for the past year: If indeed billions went to investing in water infrastructure, then why is the public suffering from one of Manila’s worst water shortages for the past year?” Calida said.
Manila Water is a subsidiary of the Ayala Corp., while businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Investments Corp. owns a controlling stake in Maynilad. With PNA
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