Justice is not sacrificed
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2020 - 12:00am

Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra welcomed the immediate response of both the Manila Water and Maynilad Water in sending their truckloads of potable drinking water to the evacuation centers in Batangas where displaced residents of the ongoing eruptions of Taal Volcano are currently staying. While it was noteworthy gestures, Guevarra though clarified this won’t stop the government from pressing its demand to re-negotiate the controversial extended contracts of both concessionaires with the state-run Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

In fact, Guevarra disclosed, the government is in the process of finalizing the revised terms of the concessionaire’s contracts of both Manila Water and Maynilad to include additional inputs from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The DOJ Secretary justified the need to correct a number of provisions that were found blatantly “disadvantageous” in the extended concession contracts like the passing on to their respective water consumers their corporate income taxes.

Attending our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum last Wednesday, Guevarra announced he was, in fact, set to meet at Malacanang Palace with Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez and ADB consultants to discuss the economic and financial aspects of the proposed revisions of the extended water concession contracts of MWSS with Maynilad and Manila Water.

“I presume that one of the matters that we are going to take up is the engagement of the ADB consultants for the purpose of guiding the government side in the matter of revision of economic and financial terms on the water concession agreement,” Guevarra surmised.

As far as he sees it, DOJ Sec. Guevarra reassured the two water concessionaires that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is willing to give them at least six-month timetable within this year as “reasonable” period to complete the renegotiation of their extended contracts. By way of unsolicited advice to Manila Water and Maynilad, Guevarra asked the two concessionaires “not to play hardball” with the government in the renegotiation of the identified onerous provisions of their renewed contracts with the MWSS.

Otherwise, he warned, the threat of President Duterte to sue the owners and top executives of the two concessionaires for syndicated estafa charges and to “nationalize” the water distribution will be carried out should they try to stonewall the government.

In his address before evacuees at the Taal evacuation center in Batangas, President Duterte revealed he has already received official communications from the top executives of both Manila Water and Maynilad. But apparently, the President was un-impressed, repeating his accusations against the two water concessionaires as the ”big fishes” so far caught by his administration’s campaign against graft and corruption.

According to Guevarra, the letters of the Manila Water and Maynilad to the President last month expressed their readiness to re-negotiate their contracts with the government. In the same letters, Guevarra noted, they reiterated they would no longer press for the Philippine government to pay the P11 billion indemnity award granted by the Singapore arbitration court. This was after they sued the MWSS for disallowing the past water rate increases as a violation of their concession contracts.

Also, he added, the same letters promised to voluntarily suspend the scheduled water rate hike this year.   

While such moves were more than welcome, Guevarra though clarified these are also no guarantee to the two concessionaires they won’t be taken to courts for prosecution.

“The President has pointed out he could not prevent private groups like anti-graft advocates and other affected parties to sue them,” the Justice Secretary explained.

According to Guevarra, he may likely be part of the negotiating panel along with the DOF, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC), and the MWSS to work out with the two concessionaires on the new terms of their extended contracts.

Also during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay, Guevarra questioned what he believes is the “game plan” of detained Senator Leila de Lima in wanting US Senators to free her from detention while undergoing trial on three illegal drugs cases pending before Philippine courts. A law professor for over two decades, Guevarra lectured De Lima that she has all the legal remedies to secure her temporary liberty if she really believes the evidence against her are indeed weak.

However, Guevarra cited, no less than the Supreme Court (SC) dismissed De Lima’s previous attempts to stop government prosecutors from proceeding the court trial against her. Precisely because, he pointed out, the High Court upheld the validity and constitutional grounds that de Lima questioned to stop the government from proceeding in the cases against her.

Guevarra sneezed at the alleged “wrongful detention” that the three American Senators complained about to justify the ban on entry into the US of Philippine government officials behind De Lima’s current status. The ban and the freeze on assets in the US of these Philippine officials if they have any, that were included in the “rider” in the 2020 US federal budget law, however, are subject to the “credible information” that the US State Department must validate, Guevarra pointed out.

Unfortunately for the three US Senators, Guevarra announced our own Bureau of Immigration – agency under his supervision at the DOJ – has already enforced the ban on their entry to the Philippines if ever they decide to come here in our country. Why De Lima insists to be freed by American Senators instead of taking the most logical legal defense in local courts to grant her bail, Guevarra could only speculate.

Unlike his predecessors at the DOJ like De Lima et.al., a very apolitical Guevarra must continue to ensure that legal opinions and decisions that pass through his office do not sacrifice justice before the altar of politics.

MENARDO GUEVARRA
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