President Duterte is bent on seeking the return of the billions of environmental fees collected by two Metro Manila water firms from consumers under what the President called "onerous contracts."
In his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) before a joint session of Congress Monday, the President has criticized the water companies for collecting fees many years for a non-existent water treatment facility.
"How can you now craft a new contract? Because I would insist that you pay the billions and billions that you collected,” Duterte said.
"For example, water treatment. O nandiyan sa kontrata. It’s in the billing, they are being collected since 1997. Ilang bilyon na nga wala ni isa, not even a faucet was built for a water treatment facility. (For example, water treatment is under the contract. It's in the billing, they are being collected since 1997. How many billions were collected and yet not even a faucet was built for a water treatment facility)," he said.
The President unleashed his tirade against Ayala-led Manila Water Company Inc. and Manuel Pangilinan-led Maynilad Water Services while slamming the oligarchs allegedly controlling the country's vital utilities such as power and water during his SONA.
Duterte also raised suspicion about Senator Franklin Drilon's alleged involvement in the crafting of the controversial water contracts, citing his connection with the ACCRA law firm.
The President previously threatened to sue for plunder the owners of the water companies over alleged onerous water concession agreements. The government decided to draft new water distribution deals, which were supposed to be completed last month.
But last May, the President apologized to the Ayalas and Pangilinan over his past harsh remarks after thanking them for their assistance in the coronavirus response. Duterte also said he is ready to talk to these business leaders and promised to be "nice" and "reasonable" to them.
The Palace even said the government was open to an out-of-court settlement with the two water companies.
No amended contract yet
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque disclosed that the two water companies have yet to agree on the proposed revised water contracts. He explained that the government wants the new agreements that will uphold the interest of the people.
"Kinakailangan po kasi pumasok sila doon sa amended agreement. Hanggang ngayon po wala pa iyang ganyang kontrata (They must enter in the amended agreement. Up to now, there is no such contract)," he said.
"Ang sabi naman niya pinatawad na niya iyong mga may-ari niyan, wala na silang kulong, pero kinakailangan magkaroon pa rin ng panibagong kasunduan kung saan bibigyan ng katarungan ang sambayanang Pilipino (The President said he has forgiven the owners, no more imprisonment but they there must a new agreement that will give justice to the Filipino nation)," he added.
On Drilon's alleged involvement in the controversial water deals, Roque said the President probably had information about the matter. But he said the government has no plans of running after the lawyers who drafted the concession agreements.
"Hindi naman po siguro hahabulin ang mga abogado dahil abogado lang sila. Pero ang punto ng Presidente, nais niyang malaman kung mayroon ngang papel na ginawa po si Senator Drilon dito sa pagpasok sa mga kontrata na alam niya at sigurado po ang Presidente na hindi po sa interes ng taumbayang Pilipino (We will not run after the lawyers because they are just lawyers. The President's point is he wants to know the role of Senator Drilon in the contracts which the President believes were not in the interest of the Filipino people)," he said.