By Genalyn Kabiling, Hannah Torregoza, and Ellson Quismorio
The government will take legal action if the two water concessionaires refuse to remove the alleged onerous provisions in the agreements.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government is willing to discuss with Maynilad and Manila Water the proposal to change such provisions that are allegedly disadvantageous to the government.
“Wala naman sinasabi si Presidente na magre-rescind arbitrarily. Ang sinasabi niya ayusin ang kontratang ‘yan dahil mali ‘yung kontratang ‘yan. Kumbaga mag-uusap. Kung pumayag sila o ‘di walang problema. Kung hindi naman, o di mag-dedemanda (The President did not say he will arbitrarily rescind the contracts. He said the contracts must be fixed because they are wrong. Let’s talk. If they agree, then there will be no problem. If not, we will take legal action),” he said.
Panelo noted that the two water companies have reportedly agreed to discuss the matter with the government.
“May mga onerous provisions natuklasan na kailangan baguhin natin. Sabi naman ng 2 partido na willing sila makipag-ayos (We found onerous provisions that must be changed. The two parties said they are willing to settle the matter),” he said.
“Kailangan ayusin muna. Mag-uusap yung dalawa. Mag-nenegotiate muna ang dalawa, they will be discussing terms kung paano nila aayusin (We need to fix it first. The two sides will talk. The two sides will negotiate. They will be discussing the terms how to fix this),” he added.
President Duterte had earlier threatened to jail and sue the persons behind the alleged irregular government contracts with the two water companies for economic sabotage. Among the provisions found onerous by the President are: The prohibition on government interference in rate adjustments, indemnity for losses in case of such interference, and the terms or periods.
An arbitration court in Singapore recently ordered the government to pay Manila Water P7.4 billion for the non-implementation of water rate increases. In 2017, the court also ordered the payment of P3.4 billion to the other firm Maynilad for its alleged foregone revenues.
Duterte vowed not to reimburse Manila Water for alleged losses based on the arbitral ruling. He remained unfazed that he might be considered a “pariah” in the international community, and instead warned there will be a “time for reckoning” for the persons who bargained away the country’s sovereignty over water resources.
Administration ally Senator Christopher “Bong” Go said that President Duterte’s move to oppose the arbitration rulings that ordered the government to pay billions of pesos in damages to water concessionaires was a timely and appropriate action to stop the abusive practices of water firms.
Go said water concession agreements should be fair to the Filipinos and thus, Maynilad and Manila Water should fulfill their obligations to the Filipino people.
“Tubig natin ‘yun. Tubig ng Pilipino ‘yun tapos tayo ang pinagbabayad ng taxes, hindi naman po maayos (That is our water. That is the water of Filipinos, and then we end up paying taxes when the quality of their service is poor),” Go said in an interview during his recent visit to typhoon victims in Gubat, Sorsogon.
“Kung ipinangako nila sa contract, dapat nilang tuparin at huwag nilang ipasa ‘yung hirap o burden sa mga tao (They have to abide by with what they promised in the contract. They should not pass the burden to the people),” he said.
Go echoed President Duterte’s frustration, saying he can’t accept the fact that Filipinos were suffering with the poor quality of water services provided by both water firms.
“Naghihirap na nga ‘yung mga Pilipino, hirap pa tayo sa tubig sa Maynila, tapos papahirapan niyo pa. Pagmamay-ari ng bawat Pilipino ‘yung tubig na kanilang dini-distribute (The Filipinos are already suffering, we are having a hard time getting water here in Manila, then they make it even more difficult. Each Filipino has a right to own the water that they distribute),” Go said.
House leader backs probe
Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel thinks it’s only proper for the House of Representatives to look into the water concessionaire contract, which he described as “disadvantageous.”
“I strongly believe that the contract of the two water concessionaires is disadvantageous to the government and the Filipino people,” said Pimentel, a member of the ruling party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
“I am supporting the position of President [Rodrigo] Duterte,” Pimentel said in connection with the Chief Executive’s criticism on the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System’s (MWSS) deals with Manila Water and Maynilad.
Cavite fourth district Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, said the two water concessionaires still need to pay nearly P1 billion in fines for violating the Philippine Clean Water Act when they failed to put up sewerage systems in their service areas 10 years ago.
Barzaga recently filed House Resolution (HR) No. 572, which prods the Lower Chamber to carry out a probe on the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore saying that the Philippine government has to pay Manila Water P7.39 billion for the losses it incurred from June 1, 2015 to November 22, 2019, or when it was barred from increasing water rates.
“The P7.39 billion comes after the country went through a recent water shortage that brought misery to tens of thousands of Filipinos that still looms when the summer time comes. The right to water is a fundamental human right is and is a key driver of economic and social development and all efforts should be made to ensure that every Filipino has access to clean and potable water,” said the solon, who chairs the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.