Palace: Arroyo, Ramos may be held liable for ‘onerous’ water concession contracts

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 10 2019 04:25 PM | Updated as of Dec 10 2019 10:58 PM

MANILA- Former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may face charges for the government’s “onerous” contracts with water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the retired leaders may also be sued if investigations show they had a hand in the supposedly unfair deals.

“If they are part of the conspiracy [they can be sued]. If they are not, they cannot [be charged],” Panelo told reporters.

The government’s concession contracts with the Ayala-led Manila Water and the now-Pangilinan owned Maynilad were originally signed in 1997 during the administration of Ramos. Maynilad was then a consortium between Lopez-owned Benpres Holdings Corp. and French firm Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux

While the agreements were set to expire in 2022, the government extended it for another 15 years in 2009 during the presidency of Arroyo.

The contracts were put under scrutiny after President Rodrigo Duterte complained of an international court order for the government to pay billions in fines and penalties to the 2 water distributors.

Duterte vowed to pursue “economic sabotage” and economic plunder charges against the water concessionaires, as well as those who were involved in the crafting of the deals. 

The President also wanted to “renegotiate” some provisions of the government's concession agreement with Manila Water and Maynilad, the Department of Justice said Tuesday as it noted that the government would "resist" paying P10.8 billion in compensation to the utilities.

Following the President's threats, both Maynilad and Manila Water expressed openness to discussing their respective contracts with the government.

"We understand where they're coming from and we are willing to sit down and look at the concession...We are fairly confident that we did nothing wrong," Maynilad chief operating officer Randy Estrellado said last week.

Manila Water on Tuesday, however, said it would no longer seek payment from the government.