AMENDMENTS on bills by the Senate that would provide water concessionaires Manila Water Co., Inc. and Maynilad Water Services, Inc. a fresh 25-year franchise have been adopted by the House on Wednesday evening.

House Bill No. 9422 and 9423 would allow the two 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.

The bills were approved by the House on Aug. 4 and was unanimously approved by the Senate with amendments on Tuesday.

The bills would now be transmitted to Malacañang for the President’s signature as the bicameral conference committee would be skipped following the House’s adoption of the Senate amendments.

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.

Among amendments made by the Senate was a section that requires employment opportunities and on-the-job trainees in the water providers’ franchise operations.

It would also mandate water concessionaires to comply with their obligations under their franchise such as the concession agreement and existing laws including Republic Act No. 8371 or the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997.

Also, it would require the independent directors elected into the concessionaires’ board of directors to have at least three years of experience in water security, water science policy and management, environmental science, or any other similar fields.

The two companies would also be required to submit annual progress reports and completion plan for establishment and operation of water, sewerage, and sanitation projects until 2037, including five-year completion targets to Congress and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

Failure to accomplish annual progress reports to Congress would face a fine of P1 million for each working day of noncompliance.

Manila Water and Maynilad signed their revised water concession contracts with the government through the MWSS on March 31, 2021 and May 18, 2021, respectively.

The approval of the bills has been criticized by some House lawmakers as they were swiftly passed without any debate on the provisions of the new concession agreements.

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. — Russell Louis C. Ku