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President  threatens  arrests over water  contracts



President  Duterte was in a fighting mood last  Tuesday.  He said the two water concessionaires – Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services – have been “screwing” the Filipino people with  the  concession deals they signed with  the government “milking” Filipinos  by the billions of pesos.

They were strong words from the President  who has seldom been this angry. “I will file economic sabotage and I will arrest them, all of them,” he said. “I will let them experience  how  it’s like to go to  jail…. I am sorry. I am ready to go but I won’t go without a bang.  I will expose the rich who made money at the expense of the nation.”

The President  spoke  a  few days after Manila Water, in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange on Friday, said  that  the Permanent Court  of Arbitration (PCA)  in Singapore has ordered the Philippine government  to  pay Manila Water P7.39 billion for four years of losses it had suffered because of the government’s breach of its obligation.

Two years earlier,  the court had ordered the Philippine government  to reimburse Maynilad, the other water concessionaire, P3.4  billion in revenue losses from January 1, 2013, to March 10, 2015.  But the Philippine  Supreme Court,  last August,  upheld a Department of  Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)  order penalizing the two concessionaires with combined fines of P1.8 billion  for violating the Clean Water Act.

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, former mayor of Manila  and former secretary  of the DENR, has  long been  calling  on the two water concessionaires to  meet their  obligation to establish sewage systems for their  14 million customers – with the result that  Manila Bay is so polluted  with garbage and human waste that DENR Secretary  Roy Cimatu  has said it will take ten years to clean it up.

Atienza has charged that the two companies have been making  a lot of profits – an aggregate of P138 billion from 2006 to June, 2019. Some of the profits came from the 20 percent  environmental  charge and 30 percent  sewer charge they  have been collecting from customers, he said, adding: “They should have  fully invested the revenue from these  chares  to build sewage networks and wastewater treatment facilities.”

Last August, the Supreme  Court  upheld a 2009 DENR order penalizing  the two concessionaires and the Metropolitan  Waterworks  and Sewerage System (MWSS)  P1.84 billion in combined  fines and to continue  to  pay  a  daily  fine of P322,102, that  will escalate by 10 percent  in two years, plus legal interest of 6 percent  per annum.

Against all these legal decisions in the Philippines, the two concessionaires went  to the Arbitral  Court in Singapore which  decided in their favor last week, ordered the Philippine government to pay them  P7.39 billion .

President  Duterte  has now declared he will  also file economic sabotage  cases against  the senators  who agreed with the   contract. He  ordered  Solicitor General  Jose Calida and Finance Secretary  Carlos  Dominguez  III  to draft  a new  contract.

But  it is the President’s threat to jail officials of  the water concessionaires  that bears  watching.  The President  has not  always been  this angry. And  he  is not  given  to making empty  threats.


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