MANILA (2nd UPDATE)-- President Rodrigo Duterte is giving the Philippine capital's water concessionaires the "option" to accept a new concession agreement that will replace the existing deals that "rip off" the public, his spokesman said Tuesday.
Should Manila Water Co and Maynilad Water Services Inc refuse, Duterte said he would order the cancellation of their existing concessions and the "nationalization of water services" in their respective areas.
“It’s either they accept with no guarantee that they will not be prosecuted or if they do not accept it then I will nationalize the water system and prosecute them for plunder or estafa on a large scale,” the President told reporters in Malacañang.
Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo earlier said acceptance of the new contracts does not guarantee that Maynilad and Manila Water would be cleared of possible charges.
"There is a time for reckoning. That time has come," Panelo, also Duterte’s chief legal counsel, said.
"Hence, the chief executive is giving water concessionaires the option of accepting the new contracts minus the onerous provisions without any guarantee of not being criminally prosecuted together with those who conspired to craft the very onerous contracts," he added.
The drafts of the new contracts will be prepared by the Office of the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice to replace the “constitutionally flawed" concession agreements that "violated every prohibited act under the Anti-Graft Law," Panelo said.
The President, however, did not give any deadline for acceptance or refusal of the draft agreements to the water firms.
“No, I am not hurrying them up. But I am not paying anything,” Duterte said, in reference to an international court order asking the government to pay P3.4 billion to Maynilad and P7.4 billion to Manila Water as compensation for losses the water concessionaires incurred due to denied rate increases.
Metro Pacific-led Maynilad said it has yet to receive a copy of the contract draft “but we wish to reassure the President of our continuing cooperation." Ayala-led Manila Water did not immediately issue a statement.
Panelo also noted that President Duterte was no longer interested in meeting individuals who crafted the water concession contracts with supposed onerous provisions, and the heads of the water distribution companies.
Duterte "cannot, will not, and can never keep a blind eye to this colossal rip-off," Panelo said.
“The Filipinos have lost enormously with the unabated collections by these concessionaires despite the latter's dismal performance in supplying, delivering and distributing water,” he added.
The President previously threatened to file fraud charges against the owners of the 2 water companies over the supposed onerous provisions in the current contracts.