BusinessMirror

House OKS bills on water franchises

- By Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz @joveemarie

THE House of Representa­tives on Wednesday approved on third and final reading two bills granting franchises to Manila Water Company Inc. (MWCI) and Maynilad Water Services Inc.

Voting 206 affirmativ­e, 7 negative with zero abstention­s for each franchise bill, lawmakers passed House Bill (HB) 9422 for Maynilad and HB 9423 for Manila Water.

HB 9422 seeks to grant Maynilad a franchise to establish, operate, and maintain, for commercial purposes and in the public interest, a water supply and distributi­on system and sewerage and/or sanitation services in the Service Area West.

HB 9423, meanwhile, seeks to grant Manila Water a franchise to establish, operate, and maintain the waterworks and sewerage system in the east zone service area of Metro Manila and Province of Rizal. Dasmariñas Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., principal author of HB 9423, said his proposal is pursuant to President Duterte’s drive to “protect the interest of the Filipino consumer and the national government.”

The president signed the revised concession agreement which extends the contract until 2037.

According to Barzaga, the government pushed for the revision of the concession agreement, saying after a renegotiat­ion, a Revised Concession Agreement (RCA) was signed by MWCI and Metropolit­an Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) last March 31.

“MWCI is now considered a public utility subject to all restrictio­ns applicable to public utilities, such as nationalit­y restrictio­n,” he added.

“While respecting the terms of the RCA, a legislativ­e franchise will promote and protect the continuity and stability of the essential services rendered by MWCI. It will secure the continuing obligation of MWCI to provide uninterrup­ted and adequate supply and distributi­on of potable water for domestic, commercial and other purposes, and to provide necessary sewerage services in the East Zone,” he said.

Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza of Buhay and House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Isagani Zarate of Bayan Muna objected to the swift approval of the franchise bills.

Atienza said water consumers over the years have been paying a so-called sewage fee, amounting to 20 percent of their monthly water bills, for a service that has never been rendered.

Atienza also directed the two concession­aires to submit the total amount of loans secured from the World Bank, the Asian Developmen­t Bank, Japan Internatio­nal Cooperatio­n Agency (JICA), and other funding agencies in the name of the Philippine Republic.

He also criticized the “undue haste” with which the committee approved the said franchises, without having received the answers to the important questions he had raised.

“I had hoped that the committee chairman and my colleagues would listen to reason and heed the people’s demand for transparen­cy. But they did not. They railroaded the two franchises. The public does not know about this and even the media was not invited to this hearing! Why was it kept a secret? Congress should safeguard public interest above all else, and not hide such things from them,” Atienza said.

The Supreme Court in August 2019 upheld a 2009 Department of Environmen­t and Natural Resources (DENR) order penalizing the two water suppliers and the Metropolit­an Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) with P1.84 billion in combined fines for violating Section 8 of the Clean Water Act. Atienza himself issued the 2009 order when he was DENR head.

Also, Zarate said the bill was approved “even when the Metropolit­an Waterworks and Sewerage System-corporate Office (MWSS-CO) had raised issues on the bills, and, the amendments being proposed by the sponsors have yet to be fully discussed.”

“Representa­tives from the Office of the President should have been invited to discuss the implicatio­ns of the revised concession­aire agreements between the Duterte administra­tion and the two water concession­aires. We have yet to fully scrutinize the texts and annexes of the new deals and if they are detrimenta­l to Filipino consumers,” said Zarate, noting the absence of representa­tives from the Finance Department, Justice Department and the Government Corporate Counsel who negotiated the new water deal.

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