By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Public Works Secretary Mark Villar said his family is not interested in becoming a water distributor in Metro Manila, following President Duterte’s offer to Maynilad Water Services, Inc. and Manila Water Company, Inc. to sign a new concession deal after the discovery of their supposedly onerous contract with the government.
“No,” Villar firmly replied when asked about it in a Malacañang press briefing Wednesday. “I am in any position to answer questions regarding [the issue] as I have no involvement. So I am in no position to any questions related to that.”
Speculations that the Villars would replace the two water firms when their contract expires in 2022 came after Duterte praised the family for their hard work while he slammed the owners of Maynilad and Manila Water. The Villars are known to be close allies of the President.
Last month, Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, Mark Villar’s wife, inhibited from the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) review of the government’s water concession agreements with Maynilad and Manila Water amid alleged conflict of interest. The Villars own water utility firm PrimeWater Infrastructure Corp.
“To eliminate any cloud of doubt on the impartiality of the Department’s review and renegotiation of the water concession agreements with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System that my affinity to the owners of the PrimeWater Infrastructure Corp. has brought, I am inhibiting from any involvement in the Department’s review and renegotiation of the said agreements,” Usec. Villar said in a memorandum addressed to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
Guevarra, meanwhile, vouched for his colleague, saying her involvement was to oversee the work of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel and the Office of the Chief State Counsel, which he asked to review the concession agreements.
Malacañang denied last month that Duterte’s threat to take over the water distribution firms in Metro Manila was so the President can replace “oligarchs” with his “own oligarchs.” Duterte has described the Ayalas and businessman Manny Pangilinan, the owners of the two firms, as oligarchs.
“Definitely not,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar told ANC last month about this.
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in an interview with CNN Philippines early this month that Duterte was not closing his doors to having new water players in Metro Manila should distributors Maynilad and Manila Water reject the new contract penned by the government.
“Kung may papasok na new players at maganda ang kanilang (If there will be new players coming and they have good)–they have the capacity to do the kind of service the people deserve, plus maganda yung terms, okay siguro kay Presidente (the terms are good, then perhaps the President will welcome it),” he said.
However, he added that the entry of a new water player was unlikely because Maynilad and Manila Water have expressed that they will cooperate with the government.