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Gordon eyes probe of Villar firm takeover of water districts

By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 04:56 AM December 18, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Richard Gordon on Tuesday said he would move for a Senate investigation into the actions of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) that allegedly paved the way for the privatization of scores of the country’s water districts.

Gordon made the announcement after the general managers of two water districts in Caraga region claimed that 63 water distribution units were already under the control of Prime Water Infrastructure Corp., a company owned by the family of Sen. Cynthia Villar.

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Gordon said Villar had spoken to him and assured him that her family was “not involved” in Prime Water’s reported takeover of water districts.

“But I’m not going to be swayed by anything. I have full faith and trust in everybody until they showed otherwise. So we will take a look at this,” Gordon told the Inquirer.

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Asked how he would deal with the situation since he and Villar both belonged to the majority bloc, he said: “That’s not going to deter me from investigating it.”

“But I have to study it first. I’m not saying that there’s hanky-panky, but we will have to look at it very, very strongly, especially since Villar is here,” he said. “And I have no reason to doubt (Villar’s) integrity. But if there’s ground to question it, we will question it.’’

Prime Water said it would still have to hold a meeting to discuss the matter.

Complaints

Gordon, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, was asked by Elmer Luzon, general manager of the San Francisco Water District in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur province, and Anselmo Sang Tian, general manager of the Butuan City Water District, to look into the orders issued by LWUA Administrator Jeci Lapus.

Luzon and Sang Tian claimed that Lapus’ orders favored public-private partnership in the operations of water districts, which are mandated to be nonprofit state agencies.

Of the 76 such partnerships, 63 were allegedly cornered by Prime Water, whose projects with local water districts had been flagged by the Commission on Audit for inefficiency and poor service.

Gordon pointed out that the issues involving the country’s water distribution system were complex since these involved both business and public interests.

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He said the government’s recent actions could “deter businesses from coming in here,” apparently referring to President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision not to settle nearly P11 billion that an international arbitral court had awarded to Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water Co. for their forgone revenues.

Both companies have said they are no longer seeking the award.

Cardinal rule

“If the government suddenly impairs obligations and contracts, that’s wrong. That’s a very cardinal rule [that involves] the rule of law and the continuity of contracts,” Gordon said.

“But at the same time, if there’s a valid reason for the government to act because [the contracts are] patently disadvantageous, then that must be proven,” he added.

Gordon noted the concerns of Maynilad and Manila Water after both water utilities disclosed that their creditors had suspended their loans due to uncertainties about their water concession agreements with the government.

“With all this brouhaha, the water system projects [of Maynilad and Manila Water] may not be completed. They are, in their nature, very expensive propositions. And ‘speed’ is the name of the game,” he said.

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TAGS: Cynthia Villar, LWUA, Manny Villar, Prime Water, Richard Gordon
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