Duterte threatens to take over operations of water firms

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    PRESIDENT Duterte will take over the operations of the private water concessionaires and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) if the water situation has turned into a crisis and a national emergency is declared, his legal counsel and spokesman said yesterday.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said the President has mentioned that he was willing to “assume control” if the water utility concessionaires are still unable to address the supply problem.

    Panelo said a state of national emergency would first be declared before the President assumes control of the water utility that he said means “government take-over.”

    “He (President Duterte) said if you will not solve the crisis, then I will do it for you,” he added.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson, reacting to Duterte’s threat, said the President has to first declare an emergency before government can take over the operations of public utilities, such as water concessionaires.

    The President last March told water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water to shape out or ship out over the water supply problem that resulted in the rationing of water in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

    Last week, Maynilad and Manila Water again implemented daily water rationing to conserve water at the Angat and Ipo dams that continue to go south due to lack of rains.

    Panelo said under the Constitution, the national government can take over the operation of privately-owned utilities or businesses “in times of national emergency” and “when the public interest so requires.”

    He said if the water supply problem worsens to the point that there is no more drinking water or the public has no more access to enough water for their daily use like bathing, the national government can take over not just the operations of water concessionaires but also implement a revamp at the MWSS.

    Asked who would decide whether it is time for the government to take over, Panelo said it would be the President.

    He said Duterte receives a lot of briefers and reports from those who are concerned or involved in the situation that could help him decide.

    The President on Monday night said he was weighing his options, including using police powers and the President’s extraordinary powers to address the delayed Kaliwa dam construction project following continued opposition from militants, environmentalists and tribal groups.

    Those who oppose the Kaliwa Dam project raised concerns that pursuing it would damage the environment and submerge part of the Siera Madre in Rizal and Quezon. The Dumagat people also claim the project would destroy their ancestral domain.

    Duterte said while some may say that the dam project “might create some danger or damage, but that is not my concern. My concern is the welfare, the greatest good for the greatest number. That is democracy.”

    “Given a looming if not already existing water crisis, under Section 17, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution and existing jurisprudence, Congress may delegate to the President the power of the state to take over the operation of public utilities,” Lacson said.

    However, the President has to declare an emergency, he added.

    He said that if Congress delegates that power to Duterte, then “the government must be ready to compensate whatever losses the private concessionaires would incur during the period of the government takeover.” – With Ashzel Hachero