Duterte threatens to file economic sabotage raps over ‘onerous’ water contracts

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to file economic sabotage cases against water concessionaires, Manila Water Co. Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc., and others involved in the supposedly ‘onerous’ water concession deals.

Duterte said some provisions of the concession contracts of the water firms, which were signed in 1997, are disadvantageous to the public.

He also described the contracts as lopsided, and vowed to go after officials who backed the contracts.

“Bakit pumayag ang mga senador diyan? Marami ‘yan sila, and we will expose them. And I will insist that they will be tried for economic sabotage. ‘Pag di nila tanggapin ang kaso na yan, I will tell the Supreme Court, ‘Now, now is the time that we talk seriously,’” he said in a speech in Malacañang on Tuesday.

“Ito ipafile ko ito, economic sabotage and I will arrest them. Lahat silang mga… Patikim ko sila paano ang buhay ng preso. Kung pati ako isasali nila, sasali ako sa presohan, walang problema yan,” he added.

Duterte did not name the senators whom he would want to be charged with economic sabotage, but in another speech in the Palace, he questioned Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon if he is among those who crafted the contracts.

“I distinctly recall that Drilon said something, ‘Oh President Duterte, do not tinker with that contract because we will end up paying so many billions of pesos,’” he said.

“Senator Drilon, are you one of those who profited from that? I’m asking you. I said I am ready to get out. I am not threatening you, but if I go down, I will bring you with me,” he added.

Duterte issued the threat after questioning the concession agreements entered into by the government agency Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) with the two private firms that prohibited government from setting water rates.

The deals also reportedly contain a provision on indemnity for possible losses in the event of such government interference.

These provisions were cited by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore when it recently ordered the Philippine government to pay Manila Water P7.4 billion, and Maynilad P3.6 billion about two years ago as compensation for losses or damages.

The two water firms separately took the government to court after the MWSS rejected their respective petitions to raise water rates a few years ago.

The president slammed the two companies and other “oligarchs” for treating water a commodity instead of a precious natural resource.

The Chief Executive, at one point, mentioned the Ayala family of Manila Water and Manny Pangilinan whose company has a stake in Maynilad.

“Ang ating tubig ginawang negosyo ng mga tao dito sa Pilipinas. Ang ngayon, ang inabutan natin ang may-ari na ngayon Manila Water, Maynilad, si Ayala pati si Pangilinan,” he said.

“We are being milked by billions and pinapabayad pa tayo ng mga fines and penalties,” he added.

Duterte said he already asked the Department of Finance and the Office of the Solicitor General to craft new concession agreements with water companies which will be advantageous to the public.

“Sabi ko kay (Finance Secretary Carlos) Dominguez pati kay (Solicitor General Jose) Calida, craft a new contract that is really a favorable to public, to government, ibigay mo sa kanila. This is the amended contract. Accept it or nothing to it,” he said.

Duterte earlier ordered the Department of Justice to review the government’s 1997 contract with Maynilad and Manila Water after water service interruptions crippled parts of Metro Manila and Rizal province earlier this year. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

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