DOJ chief defends Usec. Villar for being on team that reviewed water deals
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday defended Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar from insinuations of conflict of interest when she allegedly handled the review of the controversial water concession agreements earlier granted to Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water Inc.
The two private companies that distribute water in Metro Manila and parts of Cavite and Rizal provinces are under fire from President Rodrigo Duterte for the “onerous” provisions of the concession agreements granted to them during the Ramos and Arroyo administrations.
The Justice undersecretary is the wife of Public Works Secretary Mark Villar and daughter-in-law of Sen. Cynthia Villar and former Senate President Manny Villar.
The Villar-owned Prime Water Infrastructure Corp. has entered into joint ventures to service local water districts in various parts of the country.
“I don’t know who’s giving such kind of spin. Of course, as secretary of justice, I head the review team and naturally it’s the legal staff at the Office of State Counsel (OSC) and Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) who assist in the review, ‘’ Guevarra said.
He said it just so happened that those units were under the supervision of Undersecretary Villar because there was distribution of work among the DOJ undersecretaries.
“It was not intentional that these units are under her. Certainly there was no vested interest. Of course not,” Guevarra told reporters on the sidelines of the 5th Manila International Dialogue on Human Trafficking.
Villar leads the DOJ’s legal services and liaison cluster, which includes the OGCC, OSC, Office of the Solicitor General and DOJ legal staff.
The undersecretary, in a chance interview during the conference, said it was not her but Guevarra who headed the review and that the accusations of conflict interest had no basis.
“It was the legal staff whom the secretary worked with. I don’t know where this [accusation] came from but the department conducted a disinterested review of the concession agreements and I don’t want to even dignify further by answering further accusations,” she said.
12 ‘onerous’ provisions
The DOJ review of the concessions agreements Manila Water and Maynilad signed with the government found 12 “onerous” provisions, including barring the government from interfering in setting of tariffs.
Guevarra said any lawyer worth his salt who would get the chance to review the contracts would see the supposed onerous provisions.
“It does not really matter if Undersecretary Villar is involved because any lawyer will see those provisions that we believe are onerous. There’s no connection. I don’t know who is giving that kind of spin. But I’m the one on top in all of this and no one can intervene without my permission,” he said.
On Tuesday, Senator Villar doused speculations that a company owned by her family would take over the water distribution business of Maynilad and Manila Water after Mr. Duterte hit the agreements awarded to the water concessionaires.
“He (Mr. Duterte) has not asked assistance from us,” she told Senate reporters.
The senator was reacting to claims that PrimeWater Infrastructure Corp. would soon operate the water distribution system in Metro Manila, Cavite and Rizal provinces should the government revoke the contracts granted to Maynilad and Manila Water.
Praise from Duterte
After lambasting the water concessionaires, the President praised the senator and her husband, who now heads the family’s businesses.
“Manny and the President worked together when they were both congressmen. Maybe he saw Manny’s lifestyle and he was amused by it. Remember Manny did not inherit his wealth. He built it on his own,” the senator said.
PrimeWater now controls 63 local water districts through its 25-year partnership agreements with them , according to Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite.