President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech during the thanksgiving gathering with The Fraternal Order of Eagles (TFOE) at the SMX Convention Center in Davao City on Jan. 17, 2020.
Simeon Celi Jr./Presidential Photo
Palace vows due process for water firm execs after Duterte's threat of Marcos-style arrests
Alexis Romero ( - January 19, 2020 - 5:23pm

MANILA, Philippines — Water concessionaires would be accorded due process, Malacañang said Sunday, after President Rodrigo Duterte had threatened to order the arrest of the owners of water firms and to detain them indefinitely if they try to stop him from probing their deals.

Last Friday, Duterte said he is ready to send the owners of water firms Manila Water and Maynilad to jail over their concession contracts with the government, which he described as the "biggest rip-off of all."

The president warned the owners of the water distributors not to go to courts to stop him from seeking new concession deals or he would have them arrested "one night." He also threatened to emulate the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and detain the water firm owners as long as he wants to. Hundreds of personalities perceived to be threats to Marcos were arrested during Martial Law in 1972.

NewsLab: 31 years of amnesia: Stories on the myths that made Marcos

But presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo clarified that the owners of water utilities would be arrested if there is probable cause against them.

"What the president meant was everyone who should be charged would be charged. If there is probable cause then the court can issue a warrant of arrest. They would be jailed. But everything will undergo legal processes," Panelo said in a radio interview.

"That is on the assumption that there is warrant of arrest. There were instances before that people with warrants of arrest were not arrested because they were close to law enforcement, to the President. This time, it won't happen," he added.

READ: Water utilities' woes seen hurting investor confidence

Asked to explain Duterte's statement that he would emulate Marcos, Panelo said the president may just be emphasizing that he has the political will to run after those who violated the law.

"Perhaps what he meant was Ferdinand Marcos had political then. Although, President Duterte has greater political will. Perhaps that's what he meant," he added.

Duterte has accused Manila Water and Maynilad of using their concession contracts to "milk" Filipinos "by the billions" and has threatened to file graft, plunder, and economic sabotage charges against their owners and state lawyers behind the deals. He has also ordered agencies to draft new water contracts and to ensure that they are advantageous to the public.

READ: Duterte to water firms: Accept new contracts or face gov’t takeover

Panelo reiterated that water firms could still face charges even if they accept the new contracts.

"As the president said, we are not guaranteeing immunity from suit because other people might file charges against you. How can we stop them?" he said.

Panelo assured the public that the administration would run after all onerous deals.

"As long as there is anomaly... all provisions with contracts, we will look into it," he said.

Panelo cited allegations on the internet that the Ayalas had paid very low rent for the Technohub at the University of the Philippines. Duterte previously said he would also look into the Light Rail Transit deal but did not provide details.

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