Duterte to pursue syndicated estafa cases vs. water firms

President Rodrigo Duterte doesn’t just make threats, he will pursue the filing of syndicated estafa charges against the owners of water firms over the alleged onerous provisions found in the water concession agreements, Malacañang said on Thursday.

“Pag sinabi ni Presidente, tutuluyan niya iyan (When the President says something, he will really do it),” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing.

On Monday, Duterte again warned Maynilad’s Manuel Pangilinan and Manila Water chair Jaime Zobel de Ayala that syndicated estafa charges “have no bail” and that he was determined to see them in jail.

“Remember that the President is the chief enforcer of laws, and that is his duty. He would be reneging from his duty if he does not do that,” Panelo said.

Panelo, also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, said the government has enough evidence to file syndicated estafa charges against Ayala and Pangilinan.

“The very evidence nga iyong kontrata mismo eh (is the contract itself). ‘Di ba sinasabi niya (Didn’t he say), it mirrors the provisions of the anti-graft. Lahat ng mga ginawa nila labag sa anti-graft (Everything they did violates the anti-graft law),” Panelo said.

Duterte’s verbal attacks against the two water firm owners began after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore ordered the government to pay Maynilad about PHP3.6 billion in damages for the company’s losses over the refusal of the regulator, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), to allow the firm to raise water rates from 2013 to 2017.

It also asked the government to pay PHP7.4 billion to the Ayala-Manila Water as compensation for losses and damages from delayed water rate increases since 2015.

Outraged, Duterte described the water concession agreements as “disadvantageous” to the government and the Filipino people.

He also slammed the water firm owners for making consumers shoulder the corporate income tax.

In a speech in M’Lang, North Cotabato on Monday, Duterte said he would not hesitate to have billionaires detained over syndicated estafa or plunder raps.

“I will arrest all of you for syndicated estafa or plunder,” Duterte said.

“Arestuhin ko talaga kayo. Maniwala kayo. Gusto kong bilyonaryo makita sa kulungan (I will really have you arrested. Believe it. I want to see billionaires in jail),” he added.

He said he will also ask the military to take over water operations.

Earlier, Panelo said Duterte is expected to make an important announcement on the water issue on January 6, 2020.

Panelo was mum on the details but revealed that it has something to do with Duterte’s tirades against water concession agreements.

He said the President wanted to have the alleged onerous provisions removed and that he was still keen on hearing the explanation of those involved in the drafting of the water contracts as to why they allowed the provisions which were disadvantageous to taxpayers.

However, he said it was not clear whether Duterte wanted to speak with them or would let Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) administrator Emmanuel Salamat do the negotiating.

Meanwhile, a Palace official earlier denied reports that Duterte is trying to replace Maynilad and Manila Water with business allies.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar said Duterte was in fact, doing the business community” a favor by telling them that there is no room for corruption in our business industry.” PNA.GOV.PH