Gov’t not coercing water firms to accept new drafts – DOJ chief

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    AFTER President Duterte threatened to take-over Metro Manila’s water distribution system, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday took exemption to insinuations that the administration was imposing its terms on utility firms Maynilad and Manila Water as state lawyers continue to review and amend their existing concession agreements with the government.

    Guevarra particularly shot back at Sen. Francis Pangilinan and said government has no plans of ramming down the throats of the water concessionaires the proposed amendments being drafted by lawyers from the Department of Justice, Office of the Solicitor General, Department of Finance and the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel.

    “These proposed new contracts will not be absolutely imposed upon the water concessionaires, as they will be given a reasonable opportunity to comment on the proposed amendments in an open and public discussion on the issues,” Guevarra said.

    Pangilinan had earlier warned that forcing investors to accept a contract drawn by the government is a crime and that it might drive away investments that create jobs in the country.

    “Threatening investors with imprisonment should they refuse to accept a government-imposed contract is a criminal behavior under our Revised Penal Code. Coming as it does from the highest office of the land sends the terrible signal to all investors whether foreign or local that they too can be imprisoned without bail should they disagree with the powers that be,” Pangilinan had said.

    The opposition senator made the warning after no less than President Duterte told executives of Maynilad and Manila Water to accept the amended deals or else government will cancel their existing contracts and take over the water distribution system.

    Duterte likewise threatened to haul to court for economic plunder or large-scale estafa the private and government officials involved in the drafting of the 1997 agreements which have been found to contain onerous provisions that are highly disadvantageous to the government and water consumers.

    Still reacting to Pangilinan’s statement, Guevarra said the government initiative to revise the water deals in the middle of their effectivity will not affect foreign and local investments in the country.

    Guevarra insisted that the government was only going after the onerous and disadvantageous provisions of the contracts.

    “These proposed new contracts intend to remove all illegal provisions and foster greater transparency and equitability in rate-setting, and should therefore provide a more stable and comfortable environment for investors,” he said.

    “It is the consuming public, not profit-seeking capitalists, who need more protection by the government,” he added.

    Guevarra said anew it will take up to six months to finalize the final water contract drafts.