Duterte softens position on jailing water company officials

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PRESIDENT RODRIGO R. Duterte said he will proceed with amending the contracts of both Metro Manila water concessionaires, but walked back earlier threats of imprisonment for the companies’ executives.

The President’s Spokesman Herminio L. Roque said in a briefing Thursday that the President also called for the return of charges improperly collected by Manila Water Co. and Maynilad Water Services, Inc. from consumers.

Sabi pa rin ng presidente kailangang amendahan pa rin ang water concession agreement. Kinakailangang ibalik ang dapat ibalik sa taong bayan (The President said it is still necessary to amend the water concession agreements. There’s a need to repay some charges to the public),” Mr. Roque said.

Mr. Roque was referring to the environment fees collected by both companies even while their water treatment facilities were non-operational.

Mr. Roque said dealing with the pandemic has softened the President’s resolve to throw company executives in jail, because the companies proved helpful to the government in dealing with the public health emergency.

Ang nawala lang ay ang determinasyon na ikulong sila (What has faded is the determination to jail them),” Mr. Roque said.

Mr. Roque said that before the pandemic, Mr. Duterte had assigned him to take the lead in filing charges against Maynilad and Manila Water, but later had to focus on addressing the pandemic. Before the emergency, Mr. Duterte routinely blamed Maynilad and Manila Water for alleged acts of “economic sabotage.”

The President ordered the Justice department earlier this year to draft new contracts for the water concessionaires after finding onerous provisions in the original deals. Mr. Duterte threatened company officials with arrest and lawsuits if they did not accept the new contracts.

Mr. Duterte during a speech in May apologized to the Ayala group and businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, who controls Manila Water and Maynilad respectively, over his tirades. He expressed appreciation for the help extended by both groups during the pandemic. Mr. Roque said the government’s COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) response was aided by P9.5 billion in aid from the Ayalas and P20 billion from Mr. Pangilinan. — Gillian M. Cortez