Justice chief denies conflict of interest in water concession review

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 12 2019 03:52 PM

MANILA – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday dismissed allegations of "conflict of interest" in the Department of Justice’s review of the water concession agreements of Maynilad and Manila Water.

The allegations came to light when it was disclosed that DOJ Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay Villar, who is married to Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, was part of the team that reviewed the concession agreements.

The Villars own PrimeWater Infrastructure Corp., a water utility firm touted as a possible player to replace Maynilad and Manila Water when their concession agreements expire in 2022.

President Rodrigo Duterte recently praised the Villars for their hard work while lambasting the Ayalas and Manny Pangilinan, the owners of Manila Water and Maynilad.

"I don't know sino nagbibigay ng ganyang klase na spin," Guevarra told reporters at an event in Manila Thursday morning. 

(I don’t know who gave that kind of spin.)

"S'yempre as SOJ, ako ang head ng review team at ginagamit ko dyan, nag-assist ng review, naturally legal staff ng DOJ. So office ng state counsel so sila nag-review niyan with the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC). So 'yung units na 'yun. Nagkataon lang under the supervision ni Usec. Emmeline Villar kasi may mga distribution ng work ang mga usecs ng DOJ," he added.

(Of course as SOJ, I head the review team and I used the DOJ’s legal staff. So it was the Office of the State Counsel with the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC). Those units. It just so happened they were under the supervision of Usec. Emmeline Villar because we have a system of distributing work in the DOJ.)

The DOJ team found a dozen onerous provisions in the water concession agreements and recommended the removal of these provisions, the crafting of a new agreement, as well as the junking of a memorandum of agreement extending Maynilad's and Manila Water's concession agreements up to 2037.

"Believe me when I say that any good lawyer will see the inequitable provisions in the water concession agreements, and the fact that Usec. Emmeline Villar is part of the DOJ review team is totally irrelevant,” he said.

"But remember, I’m the one on top in all of this kaya wala pwede makialam niyan na di ko makikita or papayagan ko. Definitely not. Definitely not," he added.

(But remember, I’m the one on top in all of this that’s why no one could interfere without me knowing or allowing it. Definitely not. Definitely not.)

Villar, who attended the same event, confirmed it was Guevarra himself who conducted the review and who issued the memo to the President but insisted the review was “disinterested.”

"It was the legal staff who the Secretary worked with…I don't know where this came from but the Department conducted a disinterested review of the concession agreements and I don't want to even dignify further by answering further accusations," she said. 

Villar pointed out there were already initial findings before the review was conducted.

"Prior to that review there were already several provisions that were identified as being onerous and that was reported in the broadsheets and news and that’s why the President had asked the DOJ to conduct a more thorough review which was headed by the Secretary, not me,” she explained.

Malacañang had denied allegations that President Duterte is favoring his allies in threatening to take over water services in Metro Manila.