President Rodrigo Duterte has tasked two Cabinet officials to work on a new water distributions agreement with Maynilad and Manila Water, without the “onerous” provisions under the existing contracts with the two concessionaires.
Duterte told reporters in Malacañang on Tuesday that the two water firms should accept the new deal or the government will take over their operations and they will be sued for “plunder” or “estafa on a large scale.”
But even if they do accept the new deal, Duterte said there is no guarantee that the companies would escape prosecution.
“I cannot stop anyone, especially a Filipino and a consumer of water, to file any case to damages or anything,” he said. “Wala akong pakialam diyan [I don’t care about that.] I leave it to anybody’s choice to run after or not to run after.”
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the issue on the 22-year-old water concession agreements was “extensively discussed” during Duterte’s meeting with his Cabinet members on Monday night.
The Office of the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice presented the new contracts to the Cabinet.
“The terms will be very, very different in this one,” Panelo said. “There is a time for reckoning. That time has come.”
“Wala pang takeover (there is no takeover yet). That’s still constitutional. But the government can take over public facilities in case of a national emergency,” he said.
Maynilad, the water concessionaire that services western Metro Manila, said they have yet to receive a copy of the new water deal, but assured the government of their cooperation.
The Duterte administration’s warning of a government takeover on water services has gone far back as early as October last year amid the ongoing water crisis in Metro Manila and other areas under the jurisdiction of Maynilad and Manila Water.
An international tribunal had ordered the Philippine government to pay Manila Water ₱7.4 billion in losses stemming from rejected water rate hikes back in 2015. In a similar case in 2017, the government was ordered to reimburse ₱3.4 billion for Maynilad’s losses.
But in December, the two water firms said they will no longer demand payment from the government arising from their arbitral tribunal win, after Duterte threatened to sue them.