Duterte threatens economic sabotage raps vs senators, water firms over ‘onerous’ deals

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President Rodrigo Duterte says he will ‘insist’ that senators and water concessionaires face economic sabotage raps over their involvement in supposedly ‘onerous’ deals. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 3) — President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he will “insist” that senators and water concessionaires face economic sabotage raps over their involvement in the supposedly “onerous” water deals signed in 1997, which were recently flagged by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Bakit pumayag ang mga senador diyan, marami ‘yan sila [Why did many senators agree to that?] And we will expose them. And I will insist that they be tried for economic sabotage,” Duterte said in a speech on Tuesday.

Lahat silang mga... patikim ko sila paano ang buhay ng preso. Kung pati ako isasali nila, sasali ako doon sa presuhan, walang problema ‘yan. Walang mawala sa akin,” he added.

[Translation: All of them, I’ll make them taste how a prisoner’s life is. If they also want me behind bars, that’s not a problem. I have nothing to lose.]

Duterte did not mention the names of senators whom he would want to be prosecuted for economic sabotage, but appeared to suggest in another speech that Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon may be among those behind the contracts.

“I distinctly recall that Drilon said something, ‘O Presidente Duterte, do not tinker with that contract because we will end up paying billions of pesos,’” Duterte said. “Senator Drilon, are you one of those who crafted the contract? I am asking you.”

Numerous offenses, including large-scale agricultural smuggling, are considered economic sabotage, which was defined in former President Ferdinand Marcos’ Proclamation No. 2456 as “any act or activity which undermines, weakens or renders into disrepute the economic system or viability of the country or tends to bring about such effects.”

“Economic sabotage” has previously been used as the basis for Duterte’s order to arrest manufacturers and peddlers of fake medicine and Mighty Corp. owner Alexander Wongchuking for fake tax stamps used on cigarettes.

‘We always lose’

Duterte lamented at length the concession agreements with water companies, railing against the Ayala family and Manny Pangilinan after Manila Water scored an arbitral ruling which would see the government pay it back ₱7.4 billion in losses.

Manila Water is a subsidiary of Ayala Corporation, while Pangilinan's Metro Pacific Investments Corporation has a stake in west zone concessionaire Maynilad Water Services Inc.

“We cannot raise or lower the price of water in this country. If we do that, they will sue us for interference and they go to arbitration, talo talaga tayo. Eh puro sila ‘yun eh. Kita mo ang kawalang-hiyaan ng tao [we will always lose. They’re all there. Do you see the shamelessness of these people?]” he said.

Duterte added, however, that he has asked Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Solicitor General Jose Calida to craft new concession agreements with water companies.

“Craft a new contract that is really favorable to public, to government. Bigay mo sa kanila [Give it to them.] This is the amended contract. Accept it or nothing to it,” Duterte said.

The contracts were set to expire in 2022, but was extended to be valid until 2037. The government has also flagged this as “irregular” since it was granted 12 to 13 years before their original expiration dates.

The supposedly onerous provisions in the concession deals were cited by a tribunal backed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) which demanded the Philippine government to pay Manila Water over rejected rate hikes back in 2015.

Manila Water brought the Philippine government to court when the MWSS rejected its request to raise water rates for 2013 to 2017, instead telling the utility firm to slash its basic water charge by ₱2.77 per cubic meter.

The ruling came almost three years after the PCA ruled on a similar case filed by Maynilad. The court has ordered the state to reimburse ₱3.4 billion for Maynilad's losses from March 2015 to August 2016.

The DOJ just recently flagged the concession agreements signed by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System with Maynilad and Manila Water for having a dozen provisions which may be disadvantageous to the government and the public.

The DOJ reviewed these 20-year-old contracts "during the height of the water crisis last summer," Guevarra said. The state weather bureau said Luzon will have less rains in the first quarter of 2020, raising fears of another water crisis in Metro Manila next year.