By Genalyn Kabiling
Ports magnate Enrique Razon Jr. may “enter at your own risk” with his move to acquire control of embattled Manila Water Company Inc., according to Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.
Despite the entry of Razon in the water firm, Nograles said the government will pursue the crafting of new water agreements after President Duterte denounced the alleged onerous contracts with Metro Manila’s two water concessionaires. The new water agreements, he insisted, must be beneficial to the nation.
“Parang enter at your own risk ‘yun eh, ‘di ba? Kasi binili niya ‘yung mga stocks—binibili mo ‘yang stocks, pumapasok na siya dito sa Manila Water, pero ang message lang naman ng administration is that: Okay pero your own risk ‘yan kasi tuloy-tuloy pa rin ‘yung inutos ni Pangulo (It’s like you enter at your own risk because he is buying stocks in Manila Water but the administration’s message is that’s your own risk because the President’s order will continue),” he said over government radio on Sunday.
“Right now, nire-review ‘yung contract at magkakaroon ng panibagong stipulations doon sa contract na ibibigay dito sa Manila Water, na ‘yung dating kontrata na ginawa ninyo ay onerous at disadvantageous sa Filipino public kaya hindi puwedeng magpatuloy ang ganitong klaseng kontrata. Ang puwede nating gawin ay gumawa ng bagong kontrata na hindi naman dehado ang taumbayan (Right now, the contract is being reviewed. There will be new stipulations in the contract that will be given to Manila Water. The old contract was onerous and disadvantageous to the Filipino people so that kind of contract cannot continue. What we can do is craft a new contact that is not detrimental to the public),” he said.
The Razon-led Prime Metroline Holdings Inc. reportedly bought a 25 percent stake in Ayala-led Manila Water amid a government review of the alleged onerous water contracts. It secured a 51 percent or majority voting rights in the beleaguered water company after its P10.7 billion additional capital.
Razon continued with his buying spree with his offer to buy the listed water firm’s shares held by the investing public.
The government is currently drafting contracts with Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services Inc. after the President’s public outbursts against the deals that allegedly violated the country’s anti-graft law and bargained away the nation’s sovereignty.
Duterte deplored the provisions that prohibit government interference in rate-setting and provide an indemnity clause in case of such interference. He likewise questioned the contracts’ extension until 2037, even before they are supposed to expire in 2022.
The water deals drew the ire of the President after an arbitration court ordered the Philippine government to pay huge compensation to the two companies for damages over a rate dispute. He has refused to pay and instead lashed out at the two companies.
Nograles said the President considers the earlier water contracts as null and void due to the alleged irregular provisions. If the two firms want to stay on, he said, there must be “different conditions and terms” in the new water agreements.
“Hindi magbabago ‘yan kahit may bagong player na pumasok, may ibang—kahit na maging majority ‘yan (That will not change even if the entry of a new player, even if that becomes the majority),” he said.
“Hindi magbabago ‘yung ganung klaseng direktiba ni Pangulo diyan. Tuloy pa rin ‘yung pagbabago ng kontrata at we expect that they will, whoever it is, sundin nila ‘yung kontrata (The President’s decision will not change. The contracts will be changed and we expect that they will, whoever it is, will agree with the contract),” he said.