Power over water

Published December 4, 2019, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin



Jullie Y. Daza
Jullie Y. Daza

Angry words they were, enough to drown the two water distributors of Manila and environs as Tisoy stormed across Luzon and the Visayas, bringing rain, wind, destruction and pushing up the water levels in Angat and Magat dams.

Water, the President said in a speech aired live on the government channel last Tuesday, is a resource but it’s treated as a commodity by Manila Water and Maynilad. Recalling how he ordered the concessionaires to cut short their prolonged water interruption schedules last summer or “I will see you in your office,” Mr. Duterte warned of a “bloody” mess – “only a figure of speech” – if the wording in their contracts is not changed. The contracts prohibit “interference,” so that whenever rates are increased or decreased, there is nothing government can do. In other words, he said, “We pay for their losses.”

Laced with invectives – “I have a dirty mouth but I have fulfilled my campaign promises” – the speech was delivered with a weariness that he attributed to lack of sleep for working on state papers. It was also partly in response to Senator Franklin Drilon’s warning that if those contracts were tampered with, “we could lose billions in damages.” Mr. Duterte asked the senator if he had a hand in crafting the contracts.

The government has lost both cases filed by the water firms before an arbitration court in Singapore which Mr. Duterte described as “a brotherhood, a club of interlocking corporations formed by the corporations.”

With Senators Sotto, Villar, Marcos, De la Rosa, Revilla et al. listening to him in their front-row seats, the President introduced his speech as a “sad story” and questioned how the Senate (during a previous administration) passed the bill creating Maynilad and Manila Water. Then he challenged Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and Solicitor General Jose Calida to study the economic sabotage angle.

“I cannot go on like this. Corruption happens in high places, not below,” he said. “I’m ready to go down. Let’s stop this f—g business of milking the people.”

Now that the President has vented his ire on big business – oh yes, he promised that ABS-CBN won’t see their franchise renewed next March – let’s watch how the power game plays out. Read the stock market reports, for starters.