MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday sought the review of the state-run Light Rail Transit Authority’s existing contract with the Light Rail Manila Corporation (LRMC) after he learned that Fernando Zobel de Ayala and Manuel V. Pangilinan also have key roles in its operations.

Duterte made the remarks as he slammed anew the two water concessionaires, Manila Water and Maynilad, for putting the Filipinos and the entire country at a disadvantage due to its onerous contracts with the government.
Ayala chairs Manila Water while Pangilinan chairs Maynilad.

Meanwhile, the LRMC is a consortium of the Ayala-led AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp., Pangilinan-owned Metro Pacific Investments Corp., and Macquarie Infrastructure Holdings (Philippines) Pte. Ltd.

Duterte, in a speech delivered in Davao City on Friday night, vowed to go after Ayala and Pangilinan because they have had enough.

“Karami na nilang pera, sobra-sobra na. Getting most of the contract, LRT. Merong -- silipin ko. Meron man pala sila sa LRT (They have a lot of money. That’s too much. They are getting most of the contracts, including one concerning LRT operations. They are also controlling it),” the President said. “Marami ‘yan silang pinasukan sa gobyerno pero (They have entered many deals with the government but) this one (water agreement) is really the biggest rip-off of all. And that contract was never shown to the Filipino people.”

On Dec. 5, 2019, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Philippine government's public service contracts with private companies are subject to thorough scrutiny, following controversies hounding the supposed “onerous” deals with Manila Water and Maynilad.

Panelo said the Chief Executive has ordered the review of numerous existing government contracts with private firms to make sure that these are advantageous to the Filipino people.

‘Mere’ water distributors

Duterte's ire on the Ayala and Pangilinan firms began when the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore, in its separate rulings, compelled the Philippine government to pay PHP3.4 billion and PHP7.39 billion to Maynilad and Manila Water, respectively, for supposed losses and damages suffered by the two water firms.

On January 7, the President gave Manila Water and Maynilad the option to either accept the new water contracts or face cancellation of their present deals.

During the event in Davao, Duterte maintained that the present water concession agreements with the two embattled firms are “void, null and void right at the beginning of its life.”

He also said Manila Water and Maynilad are “mere” water distributors, hence, have no right to make demands.

“Water is a natural resource. It is a valuable property of the state. Alam mo dito sa kontrata, pagbasa ko pa lang, pagsabi pa lang but you know, when I read the contract, it said: ‘For purposes of interpreting this contract in case of conflict, water will be treated as a common commodity,’” Duterte said. “We surrendered sovereignty. We allowed our natural and valuable natural resource such as water, ginawa nilang common commodity (they turned it into a common commodity). That is a violation of the Constitution.”

He said the two water firms have the confidence to commit irregularities because they “always control Philippine politics” and assumed that they can also fool him.

The President on January 8 said he has directed the government's lawyers to present the draft water deal to the two firms.

In his latest remarks, Duterte said Manila Water and Maynilad have received the new concession agreements crafted by the justice department.

Duterte said it would be “better” if they accept the new water deals.

“I tell you, you better sign the contract --- this is good for the Filipino people. You do not sign it, I take over your operations sa water distribution. I will nationalize the water in my country,” he said. “Para hindi niyo magamit na paglokohin ninyo ang Pilipino (I won’t allow you to take over and deceive Filipinos). I will take over. I will expropriate then I will charge you in court. I am very sure that in the hands of a competent prosecutor, I could get a conviction of plunder,” the President added. (PNA)