THE Senate has approved on third and final reading proposed measures seeking to grant water concessionaires Manila Water Co., Inc. and Maynilad Water Services, Inc. a 25-year franchise.

House Bill No. 9422 and 9423 received a unanimous approval from the chamber, allowing the concessionaires to establish, operate and maintain a waterworks system, and sewerage and sanitation services in their franchise areas, including the right to bill and collect fees from consumers.

If enacted, Maynilad would continue operating in the west zone of Metro Manila including Cavite province, and Manila Water in the east zone including Rizal province.

Under the provisions, all waterworks and sewerage systems for water and sewerage services owned, maintained, operated, or managed by the concessionaires must be operated and maintained in accordance with industry standards provided in the law, and as specified in the concession agreement, certificate of public convenience and necessity, license, or permit.

A section was included by the Senate that employment opportunities and on-the-job trainees must be created in the water providers’ franchise operations.

The independent directors, as amended, must be elected in accordance with the provisions of the revised corporation code and other pertinent rules provisions. The directors must have at least three years of management or supervisory experience in water security, water science policy and management, environmental science, or any similar fields.

The bill provides that concessionaires conform to the ethics of honest enterprise by providing water supply and sewerage services in a “prudent, efficient, and satisfactory manner.”

The measure adds that tariffs, rates and other charges must also remain fair and reasonable to ensure economic viability and a fair return on investments. For the protection of consumers, consumer desks must be established to handle complaints and provide protection for consumer interest.

The franchise will be revoked if the grantee fails to operate continuously for two years, or in case of default, as provided in the concession agreement.

The state-led Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System was also given authorization to approve the amendment of the concession agreement to extend its term up to the term of the franchise, if public interest for affordable water security so requires, and upon the application of the grantee.

The Senate Committee on Public Services earlier looked into the possible synchronization of the expiry dates of the two water concessionaires’ revised concession agreements ending in 2037, and their proposed franchise extensions, which will end in 2046.

Metro Pacific Investments Corp., which has a majority stake in Maynilad, is one of three Philippine units of Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd., the others being Philex Mining Corp. and PLDT, Inc.

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan