Gov’t to appeal rulings on Maynilad, Manila Water refund – Panelo

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 9)— The Philippine government will appeal the ruling of an international tribunal which ordered officials to pay billions of refunds to water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water, Malacañang said Monday.

“We have options. Number one, we're going to appeal the decision in the Supreme Court of Singapore. Either that, or if they want to enforce that, we will be opposing it,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told CNN Philippines’ New Day.

“Because that decision— arbitration cannot be enforced unless you file a petition in court for its reinforcement. We will oppose it, with grounds that that contract is against public policy and interest of the Filipino people,” he added.

A Singapore-based court earlier ordered the national government to pay ₱7.39 billion to Manila Water due to losses from rejected water hikes, the east zone concessionaire said in a November disclosure.

The Ayala-owned firm brought the government to court for refusing water rate hikes from 2013 to 2017.

In a similar case in 2016, the government was also ordered to reimburse ₱3.4 billion for west zone concessionaire Maynilad’s losses.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, said the government will not pay a single centavo to the water concessionaires—and even threatened to sue concerned officials for “economic plunder.”

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra meanwhile backed the proposed move, saying the Office of the Secretary General (OSG) is likewise thinking of raising the appeal to the Singapore’s high court.

Guevarra added the order can be challenged before our own Supreme Court on the ground that the ruling is against public policy— a sentiment former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares shared.

“I think we can still challenge it before our Supreme Court because any foreign judgment that can be implemented here can be challenged before our court,” Colmenares told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

Dehado na lang tayo kasi ang sasabihin ng lawyers nila, you agreed to the contract,” Colmenares added, pertaining to the international tribunal’s designation as the third party mediator in the deals.

[But will be disadvantageous for us because their lawyers will say you agreed to the contract.]

‘Void— not amend— onerous deals’

Panelo meanwhile said officials from both Maynilad and Manila Water agreed to negotiate the supposed onerous deals with the government, which were signed in 1997.

The talks, however, would have to take a back seat as the government has yet to form a team which will craft an initial version of the refined concession agreement.

“We’ll do it within the government muna (first) and once we are ready with our own version of what a good water concession agreement should be that’s the time we will sit down with the water concessionaires” Guevarra said in an interview with reporters.

He noted the team will be composed of lawyers from OSG, the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel, the Finance Department, and the Justice Department.

Colmenares urged the government to instead void— and not just amend— the said provisions of the service contracts.

Para sa amin, it's void eh (for us, it should be void)— for violation of public interest. I think it should be voided— the agreements, and should be returned to the government instead of reprivatizing.

The Justice chief, however, maintained the agreements would only have to revise select “disadvantageous” provisions— and not the whole contracts.

The former lawmaker added both concessionaire executives and government officials who had worked on the agreements should be held accountable.

“The concessionaires, because for their greed of profit. They wanted the agreements lopsidedly advantageous to them. Of course, the government is at fault. Why would you agree to that? Who the lawyers are, who negotiated these should be held accountable,” he added.

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna and other organizations have filed a petition this afternoon to ask the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System to defer the water rate hike scheduled in January.

RELATED: Locsin wants lawyers behind Maynilad, Manila Water deals disbarred

CNN Philippines’ Alyssa Rola, Melissa Lopez, Eimor Santos, and AC Nicholls contributed to this report.