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Don’t slip out of PH, Duterte warns officials in water concession deals

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday warned officials behind what he called onerous water concession agreements against slipping out of the country, saying he would make sure they “will never come back as a whole person.”

Duterte threatened to jail these officials as he once more railed against the contracts with Manila Water Co. Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. that he said contained provisions that violated the antigraft law.

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“As a lawyer, when I looked at the contract, it was full of shit because there in that document is the exact copy of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices. Your crime, it could be plunder or it could be syndicated or estafa on a large scale. In which case, it is non-bailable,” Duterte said during the oath-taking of newly appointed officials.

“If you want to go out? Go ahead. But you will be a fugitive for all time. And I guarantee you, you will never come back as a whole person,” he added.

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The President has since ordered the drafting of new water concession contracts and said on Wednesday that he had given the go signal to lawyers to present the draft of the new contracts to the concessionaires.

He is giving them a choice, not an ultimatum, he claimed.

“I told them, ‘Sign the new contract because if you don’t, I will nationalize, take over the operations, and I will send you to jail.’ I have two years to do that and I can do it,” he said.

But even if they sign the new contract, the President said he would not be able to guarantee that no charges would be filed against them.

“All that I can really say about this, I am not the only Filipino who is interested in the prosecution of crimes,” he said.

“Pray that nobody will be interested because I will really — if somebody will — if I decide to go after you, I will see to it that a billionaire goes to prison,” Duterte added.

The government is targeting new agreements with the water concessionaires within six months, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

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Guevarra said the government, led by the Department of Justice (DOJ), would come up with a new concession agreement “that has no legally objectionable provisions, is fair and equitable, more transparent, and advantageous to the consuming public.”

“I see no good reason why the water concessionaires will play hardball and induce the government to take extraordinary measures, like taking over their operations or nationalizing the water distribution service,” he told reporters.

In another interview, Guevarra said the DOJ would hold consultations with economic officials and private financial experts to improve the existing agreements.

“Improving on the economic aspect like putting more transparency in rate-setting, what factors should and should not be included, these would be subject to further negotiation but we may need assistance from experts,” he said in a television interview on Wednesday.

“I would say maybe a period of six months would probably be enough to firm up [the new contracts],” Guevarra added.

He admitted that the DOJ has not prepared a draft new agreement so far, only a matrix of “disadvantageous, if not onerous’’ provisions to be deleted.

The DOJ red-flagged the provisions that prohibit the government from interfering in setting water rates; allow the concessionaires to ask for compensation in case of they are barred from hiking rates, and allow the companies to pass on to consumers expenses not directly related to water distribution.

The original agreements entered into by the Ramos administration in 1997 will terminate in 2022.

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TAGS: Manila Water, Maynilad Water, Rodrigo Duterte, water deals
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