By Mario Casayuran
Neophyte Senator Imee R. Marcos said Thursday any revised contract by the Philippine government with the two water concessionaires to replace the current one-sided contracts must have built-in safeguards that will make it more favorable to the government.
“The private sector may have the capital and engineering know-how, still the contract must protect the consumers as water is universally recognized as a human right, not merely a commodity,’’ Marcos stressed.
“I support President Duterte’s desire to assail these onerous contracts that deprive Filipinos of both their right to water as well as impose liabilities upon the Philippine government even when service supply fails,’’ she added.
She recalled that her late father, President Ferdinand E. Marcos, refused to privatize the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) by asking “why should such an important commodity be the subject of a business enterprise?”
The late President had feared that a winner of a water concession contract could stop the government from interfering in its operations and could increase the price of water.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said that after hearing the President’s explanation the other 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.’’
The water concessionaires are the Manila Water and Maynilad Corporations.
President Duterte ordered the justice department and Office of the Solicitor General to craft new water concession agreements more “favorable” to the public compared to the current deals with Manila Water and Maynilad.
He also directed the Department of Justice, together with the Office of the Solicitor General, to draft and prepare new covenants that are “favorable to the State and the Filipino people,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Wednesday.
Duterte also ordered the filing of criminal, civil, and administrative charges against “all those involved” in the concession agreements of Manila Water and Maynilad with the MWSS, a government corporation.
The charges would cover the owners of the water concessionaires, their agents, and even government lawyers who helped craft the deals.
“It is apparent that some members of the government have not only looked the other way, but have in fact purposely guided the hands of those who have raped our economy for their own personal aggrandizement,” Panelo said.
The Manila Water and Maynilad concession agreements are valid until 2037. They were originally 25-year agreements signed in 1997, during the Ramos administration.
In 2009, 13 years before they were set to expire in 2022, the deals were extended for another 15 years.
The government had entered into these deals because it lacked the resources and funds for water treatment and distribution, something the private sector could provide.
Manila Water and Maynilad were set up for this purpose. With the private firms’ help, MWSS was able to improve its water services throughout Metro Manila.
In exchange, the government agreed to terms allowing the firms to recover their investment.
Duterte believed the concession agreements unduly favor the concessionaires at the expense of the public.
Upon a review ordered by the President in March when Metro Manila and nearby provinces suffered a water crisis, the DOJ found a dozen “onerous” provisions in the contracts.