MANILA -- The Philippine government's top lawyer said Friday he would "exhaust all available legal remedies" to challenge an international arbitration court's ruling that favored water distributor Manila Water.
Solicitor General Jose Calida said he was replying to recent press statements from Ayala-led Manila Water. The Singapore-based arbitration court ordered Manila to pay the distributor P7.39 billion in compensation for losses due to denied petitions for rate increases.
The tribunal separately ordered the payment of P3.4 billion in compensation to Maynilad Water Services Inc over the same grounds. Calida only addressed Manila Water in his statement on Friday.
"While the OSG respects its obligation to keep confidential the arbitration proceedings, the OSG cannot just simply stand by and watch Manila Water spin the circumstances and paint itself as an exemplary, outstanding company," Calida said.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said Filipinos were being "milked by billions" to pay "fines and penalties" to water utilities. Government contracts with the 2 companies were unfair because the concessionaires treated water "not as a natural resource but as a commodity," he said.
Manila Water said it was "more than willing" to strike a "workable solution" with the government over the compensation order.
Calida said his office's next steps would reveal that the arbitral award was not due to a procedural lapse, but the "company's refusal to become the subject of legitimate regulation."
"Manila Water cannot hide within the confines of the Concession Agreement and escape its obligation to the people. A provision in a contract which is contrary to law and public policy is void,"he said.
Calida said "public utilities are imbued with public interest," citing a ruling by the Supreme Court.
"Corporations that provide basic commodities, like water, must submit itself to government regulation, lest it resort to abusive profiteering to the detriment of the Filipino people," he said.
Calida also asked why the public is suffering "one of Manila's worst water shortages" if indeed Manila Water invested billions in infrastructure.
Duterte in October said he would use his "extraordinary" powers as president, including a possible takeover, if the water crisis in the capital region and nearby provinces was not addressed.