Is OGCC lawyering for concessionaires?

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    WHEN the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) was called to the Senate to have its budget passed, that office lamented the fact that of all the agencies under the Department of Justice, theirs is the only one left behind in terms of promotions, personnel and salary adjustments. The OGCC said when it was established decades ago, there were only seven government corporations utilizing their services but now, there are over 200 government firms. Their legal services to these government corporations, given for free because it is within their mandate to be lawyers for these government firms, could translate into a billion pesos in savings for these corporate entities, they pointed out in the Senate.

    Because of this situation, we at first sympathized and were inclined to support the OGCC’s plea for a bigger budget, more lawyers in its employ, and operational and logistical needs. But recent developments in one particular case left us checking our sympathetic bent.

    Last Aug. 6, 2019, the Supreme Court declared that Maynilad, Manila Water and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) lost their case against the DENR Pollution Adjudication Board and so the three corporations have to pay jointly and severally P921,464,184 in fines covering the period May 7, 2009 to August 6, 2019.

    Thereafter, from the finality of the decision until Maynila and Manila Water have fully paid the P921 million, they shall be fined the initial amount of P322,102 a day, subject to further 10% increase every two years as provided under Section 28 of the Philippine Clean Water Act, until full compliance with Section 8 of the same law. The total fines shall likewise earn legal interest of 6 percent a year from finality until full satisfaction of the decision.

    The huge businesses that they are, Manila Water and Maynilad are expected to exhaust all the legal recourse such as motions for reconsideration in their desire to at least lessen the fines imposed by the High Tribunal. What is extraordinary–anomalous even– is the motion for reconsideration filed by the OGCC on behalf of the MWSS, a government corporation. In its MR, the OGCC took the cudgels not only for the MWSS, but also for the two water concessionaires: a clear case of lawyering for the private sector.

    Throughout its 23-page MR, the OGCC defended the two water concessionaires and pointed an accusing finger at the DPWH, Department of Health, DENR and local government units for what it considers as various hurdles the accused firms had to face in order to fulfill their responsibility of delivering the needed waste water and sewerage facilities. The MR was signed by the three top officials of the OGCC.

    Expensive and top lawyers were employed by Maynilad and Manila Water to argue their case on this one, and we do not care how they choose to do their work. Our concern is that the OGCC, which uses the people’s taxes and should work for the people, is also defending the interests of the private companies whom the highest court in the land had established by final judgment as having committed a transgression of the law, thus the imposition of millions of pesos in fines.

    There have been many instances when government regulators were called out because they behaved like they are the ones being regulated by their clientele. This is especially true when regulators are given additional allowances or incentives by the firms they are supposed to regulate, which usually happens in the utilities sector such as energy, water, etc.

    When are we gonna learn?

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