JUSTICE UNDERSECRETARY Emmeline Aglipay-Villar has inhibited herself from the review of the concession agreements between the government and private firms Maynilad Water Services, Inc. and Manila Water Co., Inc.
“To eliminate any cloud of doubt on the impartiality of the Department’s review and renegotiation of the water concession agreements with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) that my affinity to the owners of PrimeWater Infrastructure Corp. has brought, I am inhibiting from any involvement in the Department’s review and renegotiation of the said agreement,” Ms. Villar said in a memorandum addressed to Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra.
Ms. Villar is married to Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark A. Villar, whose family owns PrimeWater.
Mr. Guevarra, meanwhile, said he asked Ms. Villar not to participate in the review.
“I requested Usec. Villar to inhibit herself na lang to dispel suspicions that the DoJ (Department of Justice) contract review may not be completely objective due to an alleged possible conflict of interest,” he told reporters in a mobile phone message.
“It’s unfair to Usec. Villar who has always acted with professionality, but the circumstances call for it. One thing I can say, any good lawyer will come to the same findings and conclusion,” he added.
Mr. Guevarra on Thursday said he is leading the review and that there was no conflict of interest in the review of the contracts of the two water utilities.
The Justice chief also said that it was only coincidental that the review fell under Ms. Villar’s supervision.
“The fact that Undersecretary Emmeline Villar is part of the DoJ review is totally irrelevant,” he said.
Mr. Guevarra said last week said that the department’s review has found a dozen onerous provisions in the contracts signed in February 1997, including the non-interference of the government in rate-setting and the government’s liability should the corporations suffer losses.
The extension of the contracts until 2037 from the original 2022 expiration was also found to be irregular, Mr. Guevarra said.
MWSS, the regulator of the two firms, has revoked the contract extension.
Mr. Guevarra on Monday said a team is being formed to draft the revised concession agreement, which is targeted for completion before the year ends.
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo R. Duterte is still reviewing the response of Maynilad and Manila Water regarding the alleged onerous provisions of the concession agreement and their request for discussions, according to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo
“As we have previously stated, Maynilad and Manila Water each wrote a formal letter making an offer to talk about the issue and renegotiate the onerous provisions of the contracts. There has been no acceptance by the President of their offer nor has he declined it,” Mr. Panelo said on Friday.
He added that the President “will not renege from his constitutional duty of enforcing the law (and) neither will he be swayed nor enticed into accepting a compromise”.
“All legal options are open to him. It must be remembered that the President is a lawyer and a public prosecutor for many years hence knowledgeable on the provisions of the anti-graft law,” he said, “Stated differently, the agreements violate every prohibited act of the law.”
The separate letters by the two firms, both dated Dec. 10, were released to the media by Malacañang Palace on Friday.
“Maynilad wishes to assure His Excellency of its willingness to cooperate with MWSS relative to HE’s Directive to have certain provisions of the Concession Agreement reviewed and amended,” reads the company’s letter.
It was signed by Chairman of the Board Manuel V. Pangilinan, and President and Chief Executive Officer Ramoncito S. Fernandez.
Manila Water, in its letter signed by Chairman Fernando Zobel de Ayala, made a similar assurance as well as puts in writing that “We will not collect the Php 7.39b arbitral award…”
Representatives of both concessionaires said during a hearing at the House of Representatives earlier this week that they will not pursue the award granted to them by a Singapore-based arbitration court and not increase rates in January.
In separate cases, the Permanent Arbitration Court has ordered the government to indemnify the companies for losses with amounts of P7.39 billion for Manila Water and P3.4 billion for Maynilad. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Genshen L. Espedido