Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo confirmed that President Duterte was referring to a government takeover of water utilities when he talked about assuming control of water supply operations.
Edd Gumban/File
Government open to take over water operations amid shortage
Rhodina Villanueva, Janvic Mateo, Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - October 30, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government may take over the operations of private water concessionaires when public interest requires it, Malacañang said yesterday, as Metro Manila continues to grapple with its second water shortage this year.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo confirmed that President Duterte was referring to a government takeover of water utilities when he talked about assuming control of water supply operations.

“The provision of the Constitution is very clear. The President’s primary duty as head of state… is to serve and to protect the people. So any situation arising that will endanger or imperil the safety of the people, then the President has to take over,” Panelo said at a press briefing.

“(The President) said, ‘If you cannot solve the crisis, then I will do it for you...’ If he feels that there is now a need for that, then he will do it,” he added.

Duterte will carry out the takeover if people no longer have access to water, according to Panelo.

“If the water crisis becomes serious, if we no longer have water to drink, he said last night, ‘I will not allow people not drinking water’,” the presidential spokesman said.

“If we no longer have drinking water or we don’t have water for bathing, then we really have a problem,” he added.

Article XII, Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution states that in times of national emergency, when the public interest so requires, the State may temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest.

Panelo said the President may also implement a revamp in the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) if he deems it necessary to do so.

“If the government institution also fails to solve the problem, that means there should be changes from within,” Panelo said.

“If they have violated the law, they will be prosecuted,” he added.

Panelo could not say when the President would decide on whether to take charge of the operations of water utilities.

“It depends on the situation. If we lose access to water tomorrow, why wait for another week to decide?” he said.

‘Matter of survival’

Last Monday, Duterte floated the possibility of taking over water-related operations to solve the water shortage in Metro Manila, which was caused by the drop in the water levels in Angat and Ipo dams.

The President said he was considering different options, including the possible use of police power and expropriation.

“I’m taking stock of my options... expropriation or outright police power... You just go to court and file a case if you want. I am there and I will start to find a way to connect the water to the people,” the President told reporters at Malacañang.

“I will go there and operate it myself. I will take over and I will direct what to do. That’s how it is. You can’t do it? I will do it myself. You ship out. Where is the remaining water?” he added.

Duterte admitted that police power could be confiscatory, but he was ready to consider the option to ensure the public’s access to water.

The President has also expressed readiness to use his “extraordinary powers” to implement the China-funded Kaliwa Dam, which some groups claimed would displace communities and damage the environment.

The P12.2-billion Kaliwa Dam is envisioned to become a major water source for Metro Manila and is one of the government projects funded by Chinese loans.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News last Monday, Duterte said solving the water shortage is “a matter of survival.”

“I’m sure that they would try to stop (the) project... I am called upon to solve a problem and do not make it hard for me to do it. I do not want to be the bully, but if it comes to that, then, it should be. We can’t do anything, people need water,” the President said.

“Stop making it hard for the people there because it’s a question of survival of the nation, water. No civilization, you know, early civilization, and even now, it’s always near a river or a water whatever body or lake something. Whenever there’s water, the population (is) always there because water is very important,” he added.

Duterte said Kaliwa Dam and other water reservoirs should be completed despite the opposition of some sectors.

“If it’s a question of a dam, well, complete it and if there’s a strong opposition, let me know because it’s either we accommodate them with their objections and suffer the shortage or just maybe try out something that is workable for them, but with that we are allowed to do the projects that would give us order in the days to come,” he added.

Easier said than done

The Constitution as well as jurisprudence allow the government to take over utilities, but such is easier said than done and could end up more costly to the country, senators warned yesterday.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson cited Article XII, Section 17 of the Constitution and existing jurisprudence (David vs Arroyo, GR No. 171396 on May 3, 2006) could be invoked, given a looming – if not already existing – water crisis.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with