Water utility firms ‘abused’ gov’t: Panelo

    103

    CHIEF Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, yesterday accused private water concessionaires Manila Water Company and Maynilad Water Services of “abusing” their agreements with the government when they failed to distribute water supply to their consumers.

    Panelo made the statement a day after President Duterte threatened to file economic sabotage charges against the two private utility operators over what the Department of Justice (DOJ) said were onerous and disadvantageous provisions in their concession agreements with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

    Duterte on Tuesday night directed Finance Secretary Carlos Domiguez III and Solicitor General Jose Calida to amend the contracts.

    The review of the water concessionaires’ contracts with the government came following the recent decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore ordering the Philippine government to pay P7.4 billion to Manila Water for the losses it incurred after the MWSS rejected its proposed water rate hike back in 2015.

    The Singapore arbitral court had also previously ordered the government to pay Maynilad the amount of P3.6 billion as compensation for losses or damages.

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has said that both the Manila Water and Maynilad cited two provisions in their contracts in justifying their claims – the prohibition against government interference in rate-setting and the provision on indemnity for losses in the event of government interference.

    Ayala-led water concessionaire Manila Water has previously met with Dominguez to come up with a “mutually acceptable” manner in addressing its right to indemnification following the Singapore arbitral court’s decision.

    Panelo said: “The use and delivery of water is impressed with public interest, hence it is but a privilege and therefore must not be abused. Our water concessionaires in Metro Manila, Rizal and Cavite, however, have not only abused the arrangement of delivering and distributing the state-owned water to the citizens but have treated the same as a commodity and a money making venture, instead of considering it as a public service.”

    “The proper delivery of basic services has not been fostered but thwarted to the outrageous detriment of the Filipinos. We put everyone on notice that the constitutional command to the President to serve and protect the Filipino people shall be complied with passion and dedication, regardless of whatever power or influential groups are run over. Those who impede or derail the constitutional directive to the President to serve and protect the people shall find themselves behind bars with free food and lodging,” he added.

    Panelo recalled that during the summer months of March to May, the President had already threatened to rescind the contracts with Manila Water and Maynilad following their failure to supply water to their consumers.

    Panelo claimed the two private concessionaires were deliberately limiting their water supply as they were waiting for the approval of their proposed rate hike.

    “Do you know why they were, pinigilan noong walang tubig? They were waiting for the next round of increase. Kaya pinaabot ‘yan. They were short of three days (Do you know why they limited their supply when there was no water? They were waiting for the next round of increase. They were short of three days),” he said.

    Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday shared the President’s position that economic sabotage charges should be filed against Maynilad and Manila Water.

    “After hearing his (Duterte’s) explanation last night on how we are being taken for a ride by these concessionaires, I told him I’m supporting him 100 percent on the issue,” Sotto said.

    Sen. Imee Marcos also said she supports the President on the issue. “Water is universally recognized as a human right, not merely a commodity. I support PRRD’s desire to assail these onerous contracts that deprive Filipinos of both their right to water as well as impose liabilities upon (the) Filipino government even when service and supply fails,” Marcos said.

    In a speech at the oath-taking of newly-elected officials in Malacañang on Tuesday night, Duterte took to task the two water utility firms for their allegedly lopsided contracts with the government.

    Duterte likewise asked Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon if he was behind those who crafted the onerous agreements, claiming that the senator had previously warned the government against tinkering with the contracts or risk paying billions of pesos to the firms.

    Drilon yesterday denied having been involved in crafting the agreements.

    “I did not in any manner participate in the drafting of the concession agreement,” Drilon said.

    Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto backed Drilon’s statement by saying that “senators were not part of crafting any agreement then and now.” – With Raymond Africa