Unlike ABS-CBN, franchise bid of water firms that peeved Duterte wins House panel's swift approval

What's the difference between the legislative franchise applications of ABS-CBN network and Metro Manila's two water concessionaires which all have gotten the goat of President Rodrigo Duterte? Aside from the alleged railroading approval of the franchise applications of Maynilad Water Services and the Manila Water Corporation during the first hearing on Monday, May 24, there are three other glaring issues that sets the ABS-CBN franchise bid apart from the two water firms, said Deputy Speaker and Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza and Deputy Minority and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.

First, the House panel did not reveal to the media the scheduled hearings of the franchise applications of Manila Water Corporation and the Maynilad Water Services Inc., unlike the well-publicized ABS-CBN franchise proceedings last year.

Reporters covering the Lower House beat were quick to note that unlike all committee hearings conducted Monday, it is only the legislative franchise hearings on the water firms operated by the Ayala and the Pangilinan groups that were not published in the legislative chamber’s official website.

Another difference between the ABS-CBN and the concessionaire’s legislative franchise is the fact that the former had to pass through weeks of hearing, unlike the much-criticized water distributors whose franchise applications were swiftly voted upon on the first day of legislative proceedings.

Further, government agencies concerned about the ABS-CBN franchise applications were present in full force during the network’s hearings last year.

At the Maynilad and MWC franchise proceedings, officials from the Department of Finance, Department of Justice and even the Office of the President were either not present or not invited.

The House panel voted to approve the two franchise applications notwithstanding the alleged strong objection registered by the Manila Waterworks Sewerage System Corporate Office, the government appointed regulatory agency overseeing the operations of the two private corporations. Atienza appealed to his colleagues not to “rush” the passage of the legislative franchise applications of Maynilad and MWC.

“I had hoped that the committee chairman and my colleagues would listen to reason and heed the people’s demand for transparency. But they did not. They railroaded the two franchises,” he said.

Committee chairman and Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez has yet to respond to the media’s request for his side on the controversy.

Atienza said the two water concessionaires have yet to fully explain to the public how it has spent the billions of pesos they were able to collect in “environmental fees” since 1997 up to the present.

“Magkano na ang nautang nila mula sa mga foreign lending banks tulad ng Asian Development Bank at World Bank na dapat ay gagamitin para sa pagtatayo ng wastewater treatment plants para sa Metro Manila na may sovereign guarantee ng pamahalaan? (How much have they borrowed from ADB and WB that are covered with government sovereign guarantee that should have been spent in putting up water treatment plants for Metro Manila?” asked Atienza.

Meanwhile, Zarate also assailed the “swift” approval of the franchise measures.

"House Bill 9367 for Maynilad and House Bill 9313 for Manila Water were swiftly approved today by the Committee on Legislative Franchise by a vote of 23-affirmative and 2-negative for Manila Water and 19-2 for Maynilad. This happened even when the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System-Corporate Office (MWSS-CO) had raised issues on the bills, and, the amendments being proposed by the sponsors have yet to be fully discussed,”lamented Zarate.

The opposition stalwart stated: “Representatives from the Office of the President should have been invited to discuss the implications of the revised concessionaire agreements between the Duterte administration and the two (2) water concessionaires.We have yet to fully scrutinize the texts and annexes of the new deals and if they are detrimental to Filipino consumers.”