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Water firms resist gov’t

Our next steps will show that the arbitral award was not, to quote Manila Water, due to a procedural lapse by government.

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The state is running after the two water concessionaires for their refusal “to become the subject of a legitimate regulation,” Solicitor General Jose Calida said a day after President Rodrigo Duterte asked that Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water Co. be charged with the crime of either economic sabotage or plunder.

Calida said his office “will exhaust all available remedies” against the award recently made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in Singapore in Manila Water’s case against the government.

Calida said the government was prompted to reply “and tell the truth” on the arbitration case following public statements from the water firm on the controversy.

“Our next steps will show that the arbitral award was not, to quote Manila Water, due to a ‘procedural lapse’ by government,” he said.

“The OSG (Office of the Solicitor General) cannot just simply stand by and watch Manila Water spin the circumstances and paint itself as an exemplary, outstanding company.”

The arbitration proceeding, Calida countered, “tells a very different story.”

He disputed the company’s claim of having spent billions on infrastructure improvement since the contract was awarded in 1997.

“(W)e can only ask what the millions of Manila Water customers have been asking and complaining of for the past year: if indeed billions went to investing in water infrastructure, then why is the public suffering from one of Manila’s worst water shortages for the past year?” Calida said.

Sovereignty lost
Manila Water is a subsidiary of Ayala Corp., while businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Investments Corp. owns a controlling stake in Maynilad.

The two private companies distribute water in Metro Manila and other parts of the country under agreements signed with state regulator Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) in 1997.

In a speech, the President again lashed out at the water concessionaires in a situation briefing in Legazpi City after the Bicol region was hit by powerful typhoon “Tisoy.”

Mr. Duterte said the Philippines lost its sovereignty when the government entered into alleged onerous water concession agreements.

“You know the contracts, if you read them, are truly onerous, our country surrendered everything to Manila Water and Maynilad. Everything including the sovereignty,” Duterte said. “We have lost the sovereignty. We bargained it away.”

The President said the owners of the two water concessionaires allegedly have committed “economic plunder” by making the government pay them billions of pesos for damages.

Nothing else but plunder
“This is a classic case of economic plunder. It was only that nobody noticed it,” Duterte said.

“You are giving Filipinos a runaround with money. I said I will pursue this. If this is the only thing that I can achieve in this… in my administration. Just this. I will run after them with economic plunder,” he added.

He also slammed the owners for making consumers shoulder the corporate income tax.

“Then their income tax. Son of bitches, we have to pay for it,” Duterte said.

“It is money of the entire Republic of the Philippines. They are my constituents. It’s government money that was used to pay for your income tax,” he added.

The PCA in Singapore has ordered the government to pay Maynilad about P3.6 billion in damages for the company’s losses over their refusal to implement tariff adjustments from 2013 to 2017.

Recently, the court also asked the government to pay P7.4 billion to the Ayala-Manila Water as compensation for losses and damages from delayed water rate increases since 2015.

Whale of a catch
“I’ll file plunder, which, my friend, Mr. Ayala, has no bail. I want to see a billionaire jailed,” Duterte said.

Earlier, a review conducted by the Department of Justice (DoJ) showed the water contracts were “onerous and disadvantageous to the people, relative the terms or periods, government non-interference, as well as concessionaire indemnification for losses.”

Since then, the President has directed the DoJ and the OSG to draft a new water concession contract that is “favorable to the State and the Filipino people.”

He also asked them to file economic sabotage cases against all those involved in the agreements.

Duterte, meanwhile, bared that Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has denied involvement in the crafting of the irregular water contracts.

Drilon earlier warned the President against reviewing the contracts because the government will end up paying billions.

“He (Drilon) sent a text to Bingbong (Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea). He read it to me last night,” Duterte said.

 

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