MANILA - The House committee on legislative franchises on Monday approved the bills granting congressional franchises to water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water on the first day of committee deliberations.
This was a stark contrast to the 13 hearings the panel conducted before it junked the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise last year.
House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate strongly objected to the "swift grant" of franchises to Manila Water and Maynilad on the very first day of their hearing by the Committee of Legislative Franchise in Congress, despite questions being raised.
"House Bill 9367 for Maynilad and House Bill 9313 for Manila Water were swiftly approved today by the Committee on Legislative Franchise by a vote of 23 affirmative and 2 negative for Manila Water and 19-2 for Maynilad. This happened even when the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System-Corporate Office (MWSS-CO) had raised issues on the bills, and, the amendments being proposed by the sponsors have yet to be fully discussed," said Zarate.
House Bills 9367 and 9313 grant Maynilad Water and Manila Water 25-year franchises.
"We have yet to fully scrutinize the texts and annexes of the new deals and if they are detrimental to Filipino consumers," he said, noting the absence of representatives from the Departments of Finance and Justice, and the Government Corporate Counsel who negotiated the new water deal.
"We recall, na noong sa ABS-CBN franchise renewal, pinadaan sila sa butas ng karayom, but in full view sa public. Yet, none of that happened in these hearings for the grant of respective franchises of Manila Waters and Maynilad."
Deputy Speaker and BUHAY Partylist Representative Lito Atienza urged his colleagues to go slow in approving bills for the two water concessionaires.
"Huwag po nating madaliin ang pag apruba ng dalawang franchise na ito para sa Maynilad Water Services at Manila Water hangga’t hindi nasasagot ang mga importanteng issue,” Atienza said.
He alleged there was undue haste with the committee's approval, without having received answers to important questions he had raised.
“I had hoped that the committee chairman and my colleagues would listen to reason and heed the people’s demand for transparency. But they did not. They railroaded the two franchises. The public does not know about this and even the media was not invited to this hearing! Why was it kept a secret?” Atienza said, visibly angry.
The Supreme Court in August 2019 upheld a 2009 Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) order penalizing the two water suppliers and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) with P1.84 billion in combined fines for violating Section 8 of the Clean Water Act.
Atienza himself issued the 2009 order when he was DENR head.
“Hindi po ito negosyo at hindi tayo kasama dito. Nakatingin ang taongbayan sa Kongreso. We should have been given ample time to study the matter before it was approved arbitrarily by the committee! This is a case of bigtime swindle! Magkita na lang tayo sa plenary!” he said.
In his explanatory note to HB 9367, AKO Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin said the franchise grant to Maynilad will secure the continuing operation of the concessionaire to provide supply and distribution of potable water for domestic, commercial and other purposes and to provide necessary sewerage and or sanitation services."
Dasmarinas City, Cavite, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, who filed House Bill 9313, is the president of the National Unity Party (NUP).
The NUP is led by businessman Enrique Razon who now controls Manila Water.
The franchise bills came just 2 months after the government inked new concession agreements with the 2 companies after the old agreements were renegotiated by the government
The committee hearing was not opened to media coverage. There was no explanation given.