MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte’s apology could mean that he is ready to meet with the owners of the country’s two main water concessionaries Manila Water and Maynilad to resolve their conflict without going to court, Malacañang said on Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this statement after President Rodrigo Duterte apologized to big business owners Fernando Zobel de Ayala and Manuel V. Pangilinan for “hurting words” he said to them in the past, particularly concerning onerous water concession agreements.
“Ang sabi naman po niya puwede mag-usap sa mga (The President said they can discuss) issues between these companies and the government. So I think that’s an indication na kung pupuwedeng (if we can have an) out of court settlement, he will explore out of court settlement,” he said in a virtual presser.
Manila Water is a subsidiary of the Ayala Corp. while Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Investments Corp. owns a controlling stake in Maynilad.
He said Duterte would want to discuss issues hounding the water deals before pursuing the filing of charges.
“Kumbaga sa ordinaryong kasuhan, usap muna bago tayo mag-demandahan. Siguro ‘yun po yung ibig sabihin ng Presidente (Perhaps in ordinary cases, let’s talk before we file charges. Perhaps that’s what the President meant),” he said.
Roque pointed out that although legal studies and examination on the water agreements will proceed, sitting down to talk would be the top priority.
“Siguro po yung pag-uusap ay doon sa kung paano babaguhin yung concession agreement ng dalawang kumpaniyang nagbibibgay tubig sa atin (Perhaps the discussion will be focused on how we will change the concession agreement of the two companies that provide us with water),” he said.
Meanwhile, Roque expressed confidence that Duterte’s apology would mean a stronger partnership between the government and public sector in terms of Covid-19 response.
“Nagpapasalamat siya sa tulong ng mga pribadong kumpanya sa taombayang ngayong panahon ng krisis (He’s thankful for the help of private companies during this prevailing health crisis),” he added
Ayala and Pangilinan have both welcomed the President’s remark.
In December last year, Duterte threatened to file charges against the two water firms for allegedly entering into onerous agreements with the government.
Duterte’s word war with Ayala and Pangilinan started after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore, in its separate rulings, compelled the Philippines to pay PHP7.39 billion and PHP3.4 billion to Manila Water and Maynilad, respectively, for supposed losses and damages suffered by the two water firms.
On January 7, the President gave the two water firms the option to either accept the new water contracts or face cancellation of their present deals.
Duterte said he would not hesitate to have the businessmen detained over syndicated estafa or plunder raps and floated the possibility of asking the military to take over water operations.
However, in March, he became open to resolve conflicts with the two water firms.
On Monday, Duterte, who said he was “humbled” by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, apologized to the two business owners, saying he was no longer the snob as before when he refused to speak with them over the water deals.
Duterte also thanked them for helping the government respond to the prevailing health crisis.
He recognized that there would be “a lot of legal issues” between the government and the business owners but was willing to be “reasonable” the next time they had a chance to talk. (ia/PNA)