In Greek mythology, the Kingdom of Atlantis was once a flourishing and prosperous city, envied by nearby kingdoms and feared by many with its advanced military technologies and strong armies. However, when the people of Atlantis became corrupted, nihilistic and spiritually ugly, Zeus inflicted the harshest punishment and destroyed it by letting it be swallowed by the sea.
Atlantis remains a myth, yet has gained popularity in modern popular culture, though there are accounts that it did exist centuries ago as an island south of Spain, washed up by a tidal wave.
Metro Manila is destined for the same fate and the oligarchs are causing our destruction. This city has been badly suffering from a number of crises — drugs, traffic, energy, traffic, garbage and water — but out of all of these, it appears that the water crisis is completely man-made, or to be more accurate, oligarch-made of all. To quote directly from President Rodrigo Duterte, “Our country surrendered everything to Manila Water and to Maynilad, everything, including the sovereignty.”
It is Manila Water of the Ayalas and Maynilad of Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP) that benefitted most from the sweetheart deal entered into way back in 1997 by putting a price tag on water, and, mind you, that price tag increases every year. This despite that water should in fact be free for all as it is the symbol of life. During ancient times, civilizations thrived beside waterways and cities adjacent to bodies of water were more prosperous than landlocked ones. In our Catholic dominated country, water symbolizes rebirth and baptism to enter into spirituality. Imagine the lack of spiritual conscience of the oligarchs by excessively profiting from water — a daily need for existence, both physically and spiritually.
No one has dared to speak against the oligarchs; they have mastered the act of “silencing’ politicians, media and activists by handing them thick wads of cash, literally purchasing them and their souls. But not President Duterte, the liberator of our sunken and lost city, like the King of Atlantis, Aquaman, as recognized in modern popular culture. President Duterte’s crusade to liberate water from the hands of the greedy is most noble and must be supported by every single person who has spent for water that is supposed to be free.
Do not get us wrong. The oligarchs are not people to be messed with. With all their money, they can certainly get things their way, including other institutions from foreign counties. In this water mess, both Manila Water and Maynilad were able to obtain favorable decisions from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore, to compel the government to pay them a total of around P11.1 billion for losses they incurred. This is indeed a difficult thing for government to do, especially with this year’s water crisis in Manila, one of the worst in years that had residents begging for water like the city was in a warzone.
The Departments of Justice (DoJ) and Finance and the Office of the Solicitor General were the appointed generals by our President to lead the charge. They have begun by dissecting the existing concession agreement entered into by state-owned Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System with Manila Water and Maynilad. A reported 12 onerous provisions have been identified so far by the DoJ. One of the more blatant ones is the 25-year extension of the 1997 concession agreement that was set to expire on 2022, thus extending it until 2037. Said extension was done in 2009, or 13 years before its expiration on 2022. We can all just laugh and be highly suspicious about what happened in 2009.
The President has allies in Congress: Rep. Alfredo Garbin (Ako-Bicol partylist) hit it right on the nail when he said, “If they think that the arbitral ruling is like a check they can encash at the bank, they are dead wrong.” The scholarly Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (2nd District, Cagayan de Oro) pointed out correctly that the foreign arbitral award still has to be recognized by the Philippine Judicial system through a court proceeding, in which the government may intervene for its rescission. This shall allay fears falsely propounded by former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay that the Philippines may be perceived as a difficult place to do business.
It will be a tough battle, one that President Duterte may lose. The oligarchs can possibly crush him and members of his family enough for them to bid farewell to any future political ambitions. But he has shown no fear, and has said that this is one he shall fight out even if it is the only thing he accomplishes in his presidency. Strong words uttered by our President; good thing he has the people at his back.