President Rodrigo Duterte once again attacked water concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad for allegedly “screwing” the government and the public.
The president launched into the rant about the two companies during what was meant to be a situation briefing on Typhoon Kammuri in Legazpi City, in Albay, saying he first noticed that something was amiss in March, when Metro Manila suffered one of its worst water crises in decades. He then appeared to endorse — without offering evidence — an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that had been making the rounds at the time, which claimed there was, in fact, plenty of water to go around, contrary to Manila Water’s report of a shortage at the Angat Dam.
“Do you know that in that contract our country surrendered everything to Manila Water and Maynilad? Everything including sovereignty,” the president said.
He reiterated what he said in a Malacañang Palace speech earlier this week that the Ayala family-owned Manila Water and Maynilad, led by billionaire Manuel “Manny” Pangilinan, were passing their corporate taxes on to the consumers. Duterte added that under the decades-old contract, which was signed in 1997, the government is also required to compensate the two companies should there be an interruption in their service or financial losses incurred due to the state’s incompetence or interference.
In the Philippines, the government manages the country’s dams, but the water is treated and distributed to consumers through Manila Water and Maynilad. The former serves Metro Manila’s east zone and the nearby province of Rizal, while the latter is assigned to the city’s west zone.
Earlier this month, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore ordered the Duterte government to pay Manila Water PHP7.39 billion (US$144 million) to compensate it for losses suffered between June 2015 and November 2019 when the government refused to let it raise its rates. Last year, the government was ordered to pay Maynilad PHP3.4 billion (US$66.5 million) by the same court because the Philippines had similarly refused to allow it to increase prices from 2013 to 2017.
Duterte went on to accuse the two companies of plundering the country’s economy by locking the government into the allegedly onerous contracts.
“If you look at the law, this is a classic case of economic plunder. No one noticed this,” he said. “Don’t fool me. You a**holes. Don’t f**k with me. I know you. You’re stealing money from Filipinos. I said, ‘I will pursue this if this is the only thing that I can achieve in this administration.'”
In his rant, Duterte once again mentioned opposition Senator Franklin Drilon, whom he claimed told him not to review the contracts.
“Maynilad and Manila Water, they’re the distributor [but] the water belongs to us. That is part of the patrimony of the nation. They entered into the contract, I don’t know who was the [government’s] lawyer,” he said. “That’s why I mentioned Frank [Drilon]. He texted last night, ‘You tell Rody [Duterte] I am not part of it.'”
“But when I first started investigating, I’m sure Drilon said this, ‘Tell Rody to be careful. We might end up paying billions in damages.’ That’s why I answered him, ‘Senator Drilon, how dare you to tell me I cannot review the contract?'”
Meanwhile, Maynilad Chief Operating Officer Randy Estrellado said yesterday that the company believed it had done nothing wrong, but it was open to discussing the contract with the government. Manila Water, meanwhile, said they were also willing to come up with a “workable solution” with regards to the Singapore court’s arbitration decision, ABS-CBN News reports.
However, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the government had no interest in negotiating down the Manila Water settlement but was instead keen on getting a new contract with the company, according to GMA News.