By Genalyn Kabiling
The government is open to forging an out-of-court settlement with the two Metro Manila water concessionaires over their controversial water contracts.
The possibility of settling out of court was raised by presidential spokesman Harry Roque a day after President Duterte apologized to the owners of the two water companies over his hurtful words in the past.
Duterte earlier threatened to sue for plunder the Ayala-led Manila Water Company Inc. and Manuel Pangilinan-led Maynilad Water Services over their alleged onerous water concession agreements.
According to Roque, the President has expressed willingness to talk to Maynilad and Manila Water on how to possibly address the contentious issues in the water concession agreements.
“Sabi naman niya puwedeng mag-usap sa mga issues between these companies and the government so I think that’s an indication kung pupuwedeng (He offered to talk about the issues between these companies and the government so I think that’s an indication that if it is possible for an) out-of-court settlement, he will explore out-of-court settlement,” Roque said during a virtual press briefing on Tuesday.
“Yung mga issues na nilabas ni President remain. Siguro ang pag-uusap ay kung paano babaguhin ang concession agreement nung dalawang kompanya na nagbibigay ng tubig sa atin (The issues raised by the President remain. Maybe they can talk about how to change the concession agreement with the two companies distributing water to us),” he added.
Asked if the two companies will be give a clean slate despite the alleged irregular water contracts, Roque maintained that the government is willing to talk for now.
“Kumbaga sa ordinaryong kasuhan, usap muna tayo bago tayo mag-demandahan. Siguro yun ang ibig sabihin ng ating Presidente (Like in an ordinary case, let’s talk before we file cases. Maybe that’s what the President means),” he said.
In his public address late Monday night, the President made a public apology to the Ayalas and Pangilinan over his past harsh remarks after thanking them for their assistance in the coronavirus response. Duterte said he is ready to talk to these business leaders and vowed to be “nice” and “reasonable” to them.
“The COVID humbled me. That with the kind of response that you gave, showed to the public, it’s a humbling experience also for me that, you know, baka kailangan mo rin sila balang araw,” he said.
“Maybe there will be a lot of legal issues but we can talk. I’m ready to talk and I’d be reasonable. Iyong mga masakit kong salita to the Ayalas and to — si Pangilinan, I apologize for the hurting words. If you can find it in your heart to forgive me because if you do not then I will ask, if you do not want to forgive me, I will undercut you. I’ll go directly to God,” he added.
Back in January, the President threatened to cancel the government contracts with two Metro Manila water concessionaires, order the nationalization of their water distribution operations, and prosecute those involved in the alleged irregular deals if they won’t accept newly crafted contracts.
The draft new water deals that will replace the alleged constitutionally flawed water concessionaires agreements have been prepared by the Office of the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice, according to Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.
President Duterte had earlier expressed outrage over the alleged irregular 25-year water concession contracts sealed in 1997 that supposedly bargained away the country’s sovereignty.
He previously threatened to sue and jail the persons involved in crafting the contract for economic plunder, and allow the military to take over the water operations for the meantime. The water contracts supposedly violated the country’s anti-graft laws so they are considered null and void from the start.
Among the provisions found onerous by the President are the prohibition on government interference in rate adjustments and the indemnity for losses in case of such interference. He was also furious over the extension of the contracts to 2037 that was granted several years before the concession agreement expires in 2022.