Usec Villar inhibits from DOJ review of water deals

By Benjamin Pulta

December 13, 2019, 5:49 pm

<p>Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar. <em>(Photo courtesy of DOJ Usec. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar Facebook page)</em></p>

Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar. (Photo courtesy of DOJ Usec. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar Facebook page)

MANILA -- Department of Justice (DOJ) Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar on Friday inhibited herself from the agency's review of the water concessionaire contracts by the government.

"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 that my affinity to the owners of PrimeWater Infrastructure Corp. have brought, I am inhibiting from any involvement in the Department's review and renegotiation of the said agreements," Aglipay-Villar said in her memorandum to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

The justice undersecretary, a former Diwa Party-list representative and daughter of former national police chief Edgar Aglipay, is the wife of Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar, whose family runs Prime Water Infrastructure Corp.

Meanwhile, Guevarra confirmed that Aglipay-Villar made the move in compliance with his request.

"I requested Usec. Villar to inhibit herself to dispel suspicions that the DOJ contract review may not be completely objective due to an alleged possible conflict of interest. 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," Guevarra told reporters.

Guevarra publicly said while the government has enough basis to take over the operations of water concessionaires, it is currently more concerned at amending the onerous provisions in the agreements, which were originally signed in 1997 between the government and concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad.

Manila Water is a subsidiary of the Ayala Corp., while businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Investments Corp. owns a controlling stake in Maynilad.

The two private companies distribute water in Metro Manila and other parts of the country under agreements signed with state regulator Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) in 1997.

In March, supply interruptions started in various areas serviced by Maynilad and Manila Water due to increased demand and reduced water levels of dams amid a scorching dry season in the country.

President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at the water concessionaires after a review conducted by the DOJ showed the water contracts were “onerous and disadvantageous to the people, relative the terms or periods, government non-interference, as well as concessionaire indemnification for losses.”

Due to the two provisions, the government was ordered by the Singapore arbitration court to pay about PHP3.6 billion to Maynilad and recently, PHP7.4 billion to Manila Water as compensation for losses and damages.

Guevarra said another onerous provision is the extension of these contracts to 2037, considering that the extension was granted 12 years to 13 years before the original expiration of the 25-year concession agreements in 2022. (PNA)