Duterte blames water firms for ‘contamination’ in Manila Bay

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has recently blamed water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water for the heavy pollution in Manila Bay.

In a speech during the National Baptist Day event in Pasay City, Duterte said Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who chairs the Manila Bay Task Force (MBTF), could never completely clean up the body of water because of the heavy contamination.

“You must know, Manila Bay can never be improved by Cimatu. All he can do is [to] reduce the contamination,” Duterte said.

“Why? Because there is no water treatment. Until now, all the wastewater is blown every day to the Manila Bay,” he added.

Duterte said the two water firms failed to provide proper sewerage treatment plants (STPs) which led to the water body reaching its current state.

“That job was supposed to be done by the one who got the contract of water sewerage which is the two companies,” Duterte said.

In January 2019, Duterte ordered the massive clean-up of Manila Bay to protect it from further contamination.

Through Administrative Order No. 16, he also created the MBTF in February 2019 to expedite the rehabilitation and restoration of the coastal and marine ecosystem of the garbage-littered shoreline

New water contracts
Meanwhile, the President also bared that former spokesperson Harry Roque will be one of the state lawyers who will negotiate the newly-drafted water contracts with Maynilad and Manila Water.

“And so I began to scrutinise the contract. And Harry is here. He’ll be one of the lawyers who’d be — you’d be facing,” Duterte said.

Duterte also vowed to name those who were involved in the drafting of the irregular water contracts.

“I will reveal who are they so that you can ask them including the Ayala and Pangilinan. Bakit mo ginawa sa amin ‘yan (Why did you do this to us)?” Duterte said.

On January 7, Duterte gave the two water concessionaires the choice of either accepting the new water contracts or facing the cancellation of their present deals.

However, he expressed willingness to make amends with water concessionaires if they accept the “corrected” contracts.

“I suppose that up to now, they must already have the copies of the proposed contract, as corrected,” he said in an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN aired on Friday night. “And I suppose if they are willing to accept the conditions that are being laid down there in the proposal, I think we can negotiate again.”

The government is targeting the completion of the new water contracts within three to six months.

Under the draft water contract, the national government can reject rate increases that might be imposed by Manila Water and Maynilad.

Duterte’s tirade against the two water firms stemmed after the Singapore-based Permanent Court of Arbitration issued separate rulings, ordering the Philippine government to pay PHP3.4 billion and PHP7.39 billion to Maynilad and Manila Water, respectively, for their supposed losses and damages.

He said the water contracts were “onerous and disadvantageous to the people.”

Sleepless nights
Duterte claimed that the owners of the two water firms had difficulty over his verbal attacks against them over onerous provisions found in water concession contracts.

Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Investments Corp. owns a controlling stake in Maynilad while Manila Water is a subsidiary of the Ayala Corp.

“They’re having sleepless nights. You will notice that you can hardly hear a whimper from them,” Duterte said.

He also challenged the water concessionaire owners to issue an apology to the Filipino people.

“I have nothing against you personally but you have to explain to the Filipino people why you did it,” Duterte said.

He also reiterated his call to state lawyers and the military not to stop going after the water firms if he fails to “make it to the finish line” or the end of his term in 2022.