State can take over Metro Manila water distribution under Constitution – Justice chief

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The Justice chief says the Constitution allows the state to take over operations of private businesses ‘in case of national emergency and when public interest requires it’ (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 14) — A state takeover of the water distribution in Metro Manila is allowable under the Constitution, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Saturday.

“Under the Constitution, the state may temporarily take over or direct the operations of privately owned public utilities or businesses affected with public interest: in case of national emergency and when public interest requires it,” Guevarra told CNN Philippines.

He added that “these are factual issues that only the president, as chief executive, can determine.”

Guevarra was reacting to President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement on Thursday, threatening a military takeover of Metro Manila’s water operations after he slammed concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad for their “onerous” water deals.

Sinabi ko sa kanila (water concessionaires) ‘wag ninyo ako laruan, na takut-takuitin ninyo ako. Sige, magsibat kami, bahala, wala kayo tubig. I will order the Armed Forces to override your order. Sige, sundalo take over,” said Duterte in a speech in Las Pinas City.

[Translation: I told them (water concessionaire) don’t toy with me and try to scare me, saying if we interfere then you’ll cut off our water supply. I will order the Armed Forces to override your order. Go ahead military, take over.]

He added that he would also suspend the writ of habeas corpus but “only against economic sabotage.” It will not include the arrest of members of the New People’s Army, he stressed.

‘Pag niloko mo ako, niloko mo ang Pilipino, [If you mess with me and the Filipinos], I will suspend the writ of habeas corpus and I will arrest all of you, kaya gusto kong makita ang mga bilyonaryo na nakakulong [I want to see all the billionaires in jail],” added Duterte.

On December 3, Duterte warned that he would insist that these concessionaires and some senators face economic sabotage raps over the deals signed back in 1997. This comes after the water concessionaires won an arbitral ruling that ordered the Philippine government to pay them 7.39 billion pesos in losses.

Manila Water has since said it will not accept the arbitral award, adding that it will also defer its rate adjustment scheduled for next year until they reach an understanding with the government.

However, Duterte said he is not open to discussing with the companies.

“I am not talking. Go to (Emmanuel) Salamat, mag-usap kayo [you talk]. Bahala kayo diyan [That is up to you]. Ako [Me], I will just prepare the charge. ‘Pag hindi tayo nagkaintindihan dito [If we do not come to an understanding], economic plunder,” he said, referring to Metropolitan Waterworks Sewerage System Administrator Emmanuel Salamat.

Economic sabotage means “any act or activity which undermines, weakens or renders into disrepute the economic system or viability of the country or tends to bring about such effects” according to former President Ferdinand Marcos’ Proclamation No. 2456.

The House of Representatives also said it will probe the water deals between the concessionaires and the government.