By Gillian M. Cortez and Genshen L. Espedido

JUSTICE SECRETARY Menardo I. Guevarra urged Metro Manila water concessionaires not to “play hardball” after President Rodrigo R. Duterte offered the service providers new agreements under threat of nationalization and possible plunder and fraud charges.

Mr. Duterte on Tuesday called on Manila Water Co., Inc. and Maynilad Water Services, Inc. to accept the new contracts, which the government considers to be free of the original onerous provisions. He raised the prospect of nationalization and plunder or fraud prosecutions for the parties that negotiated the contract.

“I see no good reason why the water concessionaires will play hardball and induce the government to take extraordinary measures, like taking over their operations or nationalizing the water distribution service,” Mr. Guevarra said in a message to reporters on Wednesday.

Mr. Gueverra’s Department of Justice (DoJ) is responsible for drafting a new contract alongside the Office of the Solicitor General for both water providers. The government claims the current contracts are onerous because they reject the government’s power to regulate prices in the public interest.

The President has also accused Maynilad and Manila Water of not delivering on water treatment facilities while charging fees for such services.

Mr. Guevarra said the draft contracts will be “fair and equitable, more transparent, and advantageous to the consuming public.” No timeline has been set on when the new deals will be presented to both Maynilad and Manila Water.

Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano said he hopes the new agreements are made public soon and are acceptable to the two concessionaires to avert problems in the water supply for the medium and long term.

He believes a prolonged standoff could create confusion on the government’s power to regulate water supply contracts.

Hindi makakapagplano ng long-term solutions sa supply ng tubig kapagka hindi alam ng negosyante o hindi alam ng gobyerno kung anong duties nila within na next 10, 15, 20 years. So sana sa pinakamadaling panahon etong first quarter ng taon, mailabas yung bagong kontrata at magkasundo (It will be difficult to plan for the long term on water supply if businesses do not know or the government does not know what their duties are over the next 10, 15, or 20 years. I hope as soon as the first quarter of this year, the new contracts will be released and signed),” he told reporters Wednesday.

The House of Representatives last month investigated the alleged irregularities found in the concession agreements of Maynilad and Manila Water.