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Oligarchs must now dance to the music

December 11, 2019 - Wednesday 4:12 AM by Jimmy Laking

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Currently undergoing scrutiny are the onerous contracts that were handed in a silver platter to the Manila Water Co. Inc. and the Maynilad Water Services Inc. in 1997 when Fidel Ramos was president.

It is one issue that seemed to have united this nation with President Duterte providing the catalyst.

Duterte said the contracts that the Ramos administration inked with the two companies sold this country’s economy down the drain and gave away its sovereignty.

Duterte hurled his criticism and tongue-lashing so far against two oligarchs, Jaime Zobel de Ayala of Ayala-Manila water and Manuel Pangilinan of Maynilad, owners of the two concessionaires that distribute water to Metro Manila and Southern Tagalog.

It seems that over the years these two companies have been bleeding the economy dry with the contracts as license to raise their rates at will to the detriment of millions of consumers who had no choice except to bleed more.

This was the situation under the Estrada, Arroyo, and Aquino administrations. None raised a whimper every time the two companies had the notion to tighten the guillotine. Even the so-called organized Left and their stalwarts in Congress were content to straddle the fence.

But nothing is written in stone. And it took a former mayor from Davao to notice what is wrong with Metro Manila: that without their knowing it Metro Manilans are being screwed by the two oligarchs in broad daylight. Ginigisa sa sariling mantika.

It is also clear that the two oligarchs underestimated Duterte. And in a case of overplaying their hands, the two companies went overboard by hauling the Philippine government to the Permanent Arbitration Court of Singapore in a bid to compel the government to pay both companies a whopping $211.5 million supposedly in damages that arose from losses they incurred after the Philippine government opposed their rate increase.

Digong has had enough. Not only is he intent on pursuing a case of economic sabotage against both companies, he also expressed the need to disbar those who crafted the onerous contracts that disadvantaged the Philippine government from the start.

He also expressed the need to remove the onerous terms in the contracts.

Interviewed by CNN Philippines, lawyer and former Bayan Muna party list Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares said this is one rare moment when his group agrees with the government in denouncing the contract as onerous.

He said the contract is simply unacceptable to the Filipino people because it goes against their interest.

Himself a legal luminary despite his politics, Colmenares said what made the contracts so lopsided in favor of the concessionaires is that their profits have been guaranteed from the start.

“Everything is in their favor. They are assured of a rate of return, a corporate income tax and an allotment for foreign travel,” he said, adding that corporate income tax alone amounted to P15 billion which went into the pockets of the two companies.

Where indeed can you see contracts as lopsided as that?

And what to do with the contracts? Colmenares suggested they should be completely rescinded or voided.

Duterte has not said as much. But given the extent and seriousness of the effort directed against the onerous contracts, it is probably safe to assume that both Zobel and Pangilinan have been burning the lines lately in a bid to confront the greatest challenge they have confronted so far. Both must be in panic mode.

Since it was them that started the beat, they now much dance to music.