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Economic team to handle water negotiation – Duterte

By Genalyn Kabiling

President Duterte is not inclined to talk with the new investors in Metro Manila water distribution amid his lingering concerns about the alleged onerous water contracts.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers a speech as he joins the Cebuanos in celebrating the 40th Sinulog Festival at the Cebu City Sports Center Grandstand on January 19, 2020. REY BANIQUET/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte ( REY BANIQUET/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO/MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

The President said he would let the economic managers deal with the entry of new businessmen in the water sector, adding that he would rather run after the “big fishes” over the alleged irregular water deals.

“Of course may bagong mga negosyante (there are new stakeholders), they will infuse… I do not know for what reason. Well, I am ready — not me but ‘yung economic managers ko na lang. I refuse to talk to them,” he said before an assembly of broadcast executives in Malacañang Wednesday.

Duterte admitted that he does not know how to press ahead with new water deals, especially since the existing contracts have supposedly violated the country’s anti-graft law.

“Paano ko ito aregluhin (How can I fix this)? How can I now proceed with a new contract acceptable to them with the entry of new businessmen? Okay ‘yan. Paano ‘yung ginawa ninyo (How about what you did)?” he said. “It is a contract with the — infused with the entry of new businessmen. It is the same contract that is really a copy of the Anti-Graft Law.”

Ports tycoon Enrique Razon Jr.-led Prime Metroline Holdings Inc. reportedly bought a 25 percent stake in Ayala-led Manila Water amid a government review of the alleged onerous water contracts. It secured 51 percent or majority voting rights in the beleaguered water company after its P10.7 billion additional capital.

Recently, Razon continued with his buying spree with his offer to buy the listed water firm’s shares held by the investing public.

The President, meantime, branded Manila Water Company, Inc. Chairman Fernando Zobel de Ayala and Maynilad Water Services, Inc. Chairman Manuel Pangilinan as the “big fishes” in the campaign against corruption, as he vowed to make them accountable for the alleged irregular water deals.

He said the companies have passed on the payment of corporate income tax to consumers as well as charged them with environmental fees without completing the water treatment facilities.

He also said government will not pay the huge compensation to the water companies despite an order from the arbitration court abroad.

“Sinabi ni Secretary sa Finance (He told me), ‘We owe them 7 billion.’ Sabi ko (I said), ‘Sonny, b***s***. Sabihin mo sa kanila hindi ako babayad. Ikukulong ko pa sila.’ Totoo. Ikukulong ko talaga,” he said. (‘Tell them I’m not going to pay, and I’ll put them in jail.’ True. I will really put them in jail.)

Duterte earlier deplored the allegedly onerous 25-year concession deals signed with Manila Water and Maynilad in 1997, and ordered the crafting of new ones to correct the controversial provisions.

Duterte has also warned of a possible government takeover of water distribution if Manila Water and Maynilad would reject the new concession agreements.

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