Duterte threatens to file economic sabotage raps over ‘onerous’ water contracts

Robie de Guzman   •   December 4, 2019   •   638

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to file economic sabotage cases against water concessionaires, Manila Water Co. Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc., and others involved in the supposedly ‘onerous’ water concession deals.

Duterte said some provisions of the concession contracts of the water firms, which were signed in 1997, are disadvantageous to the public.

He also described the contracts as lopsided, and vowed to go after officials who backed the contracts.

“Bakit pumayag ang mga senador diyan? Marami ‘yan sila, and we will expose them. And I will insist that they will be tried for economic sabotage. ‘Pag di nila tanggapin ang kaso na yan, I will tell the Supreme Court, ‘Now, now is the time that we talk seriously,’” he said in a speech in Malacañang on Tuesday.

“Ito ipafile ko ito, economic sabotage and I will arrest them. Lahat silang mga… Patikim ko sila paano ang buhay ng preso. Kung pati ako isasali nila, sasali ako sa presohan, walang problema yan,” he added.

Duterte did not name the senators whom he would want to be charged with economic sabotage, but in another speech in the Palace, he questioned Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon if he is among those who crafted the contracts.

“I distinctly recall that Drilon said something, ‘Oh President Duterte, do not tinker with that contract because we will end up paying so many billions of pesos,’” he said.

“Senator Drilon, are you one of those who profited from that? I’m asking you. I said I am ready to get out. I am not threatening you, but if I go down, I will bring you with me,” he added.

Duterte issued the threat after questioning the concession agreements entered into by the government agency Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) with the two private firms that prohibited government from setting water rates.

The deals also reportedly contain a provision on indemnity for possible losses in the event of such government interference.

These provisions were cited by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore when it recently ordered the Philippine government to pay Manila Water P7.4 billion, and Maynilad P3.6 billion about two years ago as compensation for losses or damages.

The two water firms separately took the government to court after the MWSS rejected their respective petitions to raise water rates a few years ago.

The president slammed the two companies and other “oligarchs” for treating water a commodity instead of a precious natural resource.

The Chief Executive, at one point, mentioned the Ayala family of Manila Water and Manny Pangilinan whose company has a stake in Maynilad.

“Ang ating tubig ginawang negosyo ng mga tao dito sa Pilipinas. Ang ngayon, ang inabutan natin ang may-ari na ngayon Manila Water, Maynilad, si Ayala pati si Pangilinan,” he said.

“We are being milked by billions and pinapabayad pa tayo ng mga fines and penalties,” he added.

Duterte said he already asked the Department of Finance and the Office of the Solicitor General to craft new concession agreements with water companies which will be advantageous to the public.

“Sabi ko kay (Finance Secretary Carlos) Dominguez pati kay (Solicitor General Jose) Calida, craft a new contract that is really a favorable to public, to government, ibigay mo sa kanila. This is the amended contract. Accept it or nothing to it,” he said.

Duterte earlier ordered the Department of Justice to review the government’s 1997 contract with Maynilad and Manila Water after water service interruptions crippled parts of Metro Manila and Rizal province earlier this year. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

Lacson backs gov’t move to block release of P80-B congressional realignments

Robie de Guzman   •   February 19, 2020

Senator Panfilo Lacson

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday revealed that at least P80 billion in congressional realignments have been withheld by President Rodrigo Duterte and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

In a statement, Lacson said some lawmakers tried to realign at least P80 billion from the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program to their districts’ “pet projects” under the P4.1 trillion 2020 national budget.

But instead of exercising his veto power over the line items which could stall the approval of the budget, the lawmaker said Duterte decided to just block the release of the budget by way of a DBM circular now called “for later release,” which has the same effect of a veto.

“I support the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte and the Department of Budget and Management to withhold the release of these congressional realignments,” he said.

“This is one reason why I continue to support the leadership of President Duterte in spite of some disagreements with him over some policy issues: He has time and again displayed the strong political will, even against many self-proclaimed allies in Congress whose loyalty clearly lies where the money lies,” he added.

Lacson advised the president to “always be wary of these so-called allies” who have the propensity to praise him to high heavens and never criticize him but with self-aggrandizement and greed as their only motivation and nothing else.

The House of Representatives has yet to issue a comment on Lacson’s claim. – RRD (with details form Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

It’s more fun in the Philippines: Duterte invites Filipinos to visit local tourism sites amid Covid-19 fears

Robie de Guzman   •   February 14, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has called on Filipinos to visit local tourism sites amid fears of international travel and restrictions due to the threat of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

In a taped message posted on social media, Duterte urged the public to help boost local tourism by visiting the country’s scenic spots and discovering other awe-inspiring hidden gem attractions.

“To my fellow Filipinos, I encourage you to travel with me around the Philippines. I assure you that everything is safe in our country, be it an issue of health, be it an issue of law and order and be it an issue of accessibility,” the President said.

“Come with me and be my travel companion. I’ll be traveling around the Philippines. Pasyal tayo dito sa atin. Unahin natin ‘yung atin. Mabuhay ang Pilipino. Mabuhay ang turismo ng Pilipinas,” he added.

The chief executive issued the call after the tourism sector reported at least P10 billion in revenue losses due to an entry ban on travelers to and from China, the country’s largest tourism market, after it was hit by coronavirus outbreak.

Duterte said local airline companies and hotel operators have agreed to offer discounted rates to counter the negative effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, and to promote the country’s tourism sector to local tourists.

“Maraming magagandang mapuntahan sa Pilipinas, wala kayong dapat alalahanin,” he said.

The Philippines has imposed an entry ban on foreigners who travelled from China, Hong Kong and Macau within 14 days in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus strain. It later expanded the ban’s coverage to include Taiwan.

Lacson hits move to scrap VFA that exposes PH to security threats

Robie de Guzman   •   February 13, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday expressed his belief that the Philippines is now exposed naked to threats after being stripped of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

In a statement, Lacson said the country will no doubt survive without the military pact given the resilience of the Filipino people and its soldiers.

“We know how to improvise and we can adapt to crises the way we did many times before,” he said.

However, he pointed out that without the US assistance from now on, the Philippines will continue to be exposed to terrorists and other threats to national security.

“[I]n the meantime, we remain exposed to terrorist threats, both domestic and foreign, not to mention the continuing security threat in the West Philippine Sea posed by China, and even the need for timely humanitarian response and assistance that the US is capable of deploying during disasters, natural or man-made,” he said.

He also said that the abrogation of the country’s military pact also affects the maintenance and repairs of military hardware, mostly air assets provided by the US under the AFP modernization program.

The VFA between Washington and Manila came into force in 1999. It outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

The deal may be terminated by either of the two countries by writing to the other party signifying their intent to end the agreement. Its expiration will come 180 days from the date of notification.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday shrugged off the Philippines’ scrapping of the VFA, saying it would “save a lot of money.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier said it is now eyeing to sign similar defense treaties and increase engagement for joint exercises with other countries as a replacement for the terminated agreement with the US.

But Lacson pointed out that establishing a similar military pact would take a long time.

“Exploring other options like inking similar defense treaties with other nations as posited by the AFP Chief of Staff is fine but the reality is, it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

“It will take a series of back-and-forth negotiations in pursuit of the concerned parties’ self and national interests before going through lengthy deliberations for ratification by the Senate,” he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA following the US’ move to cancel the visa of his ally, former National Police chief and now Senator Ronald dela Rosa. Duterte has also repeatedly criticized the US for its ‘disrespectful’ actions including meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

“While admittedly, the VFA is not perfect for the Philippines as far as equitability is concerned, the timing and reasons for its abrogation are way off the mark,” Lacson said.

“The thing is, it is not the smartest move of the President to expose ourselves naked first before looking for other options for cover,” he added.

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