MANILA, Philippines — Sometimes, it really pays to have a strong political will.
Such is the case with Maynilad and Manila Water which announced Tuesday they will no longer collect from the Duterte Administration close to P11 billion that an international arbitration court in Singapore awarded to them on uncollected revenues and unimplemented rate hikes from five years ago.
But President Duterte was quick to the draw saying the government cannot and will never pay the said amount allegedly culled from an “onerous” contract written by unscrupulous government lawyers before.
The Chief Executive stressed further that he will instead order an arrest of the parties involved for widespread economic sabotage and plunder.
Aside from the threat of imprisonment, President Duterte also mulled at expropriating the two big water concessionaires if and when its officials and the government lawyers who drafted the contract cannot come up with a good explanation on their monetary claims.
Meanwhile, Manila Water and Maynilad executives said, during a hearing in the House of Representatives, they were open to renegotiating the supposed “onerous” provisions of their water concession agreements with the government to distribute water in Metro Manila and Cavite and Rizal provinces.
On their prepared statements, Manila Water president Jose Rene Almendras and Maynilad president Ramoncito Fernandez said they were ready to cooperate with the government in striking a new deal, without the “onerous” provisions.
It was the first time the House committees on good government and public accounts heard on the “onerous” 1997 water concession agreements or days after President Duterte lashed out at the two water firms for “economic plunder.”
It was gathered, the Singapore-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ordered the Philippine government last month to pay Manila Water P7.4 billion from “actual losses” for the refusal of the regulator, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), to give the green light to raise water rates in the past several years.
Maynilad won its own case in 2017 in the arbitration court, which directed the government to pay it P3.4 billion.
What angered Duterte, even more, is a stipulation in the contract that bars the government from interfering in the setting of rates.
And it was extremely disadvantageous to the government and public the President said.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra welcomed the new development.
“This is a very positive development,” Guevarra said of the firms’ new position.
“Although the President has said that the government will not pay these arbitral awards, at least during his term anyway, this gracious manifestation on the part of the water concessionaires nonetheless removes a potential liability from the books of account of the government,” Guevarra added. (IAMIGO/CNS)