DEPUTY Speaker and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez on Wednesday called on the leadership of the House of Representatives to recall Monday’s approval of the 25-year franchises of water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water.
In making the appeal, Rodriguez said he is one of many House members who did not have the opportunity to scrutinize the bills containing the franchises in the committee level and in plenary.
“As a Deputy Speaker, I am ex-officio member of all committees. I never received an invitation to attend hearings in the committee on franchises on these two franchise bills,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the failure of the committee to invite its members “violates the rules of the House that hearings should be made public and that all members of the chamber and all those opposed to the measures should be invited to attend and ask questions.”
He added that he could not understand the “indecent haste” in rushing the approval of the Maynilad and Manila Water franchises.
“People will suspect that we are taking advantage of the pandemic. We could have waited for the lockdowns in Metro Manila and other areas, including Cagayan de Oro City, to scrutinize these bills at length, since they involve tens of billions the millions of consumers will pay,” Rodriguez stressed.
He pointed out that had there been public hearings or had the committee invited him, he would have asked questions on certain issues involving the interest of the government and the people affected by the water concessions.
“I would have asked responsible officials and the concessionaires why their earlier contracts were allegedly onerous against the government and consumers as emphasized by President Duterte himself? What were the onerous features and who drafted those contracts,” the Mindanao lawmaker said.
He said he would also like to know the provisions of the new contracts, how are they different with the old agreements and what improvements were introduced, if any.
“How do we know that all the one-sided provisions have been removed and the new contracts are now fair to the public, the government and the concessionaires if we do not subject them to scrutiny?” he asked.
Rodriguez said he would also like to ask if the concessionaires are now required to install sewerage systems and plants, instead of dumping wastes in Manila Bay.
“Is that part of the new contracts? What is the timeline for compliance, what are the penalties for non-compliance? We do not know because we were not given the opportunity to ask questions and cast an informed vote,” he said.
He said another issue that should be clarified involves wastage or what is euphemistically called systems loss, the cost of which, like in the case of electricity, amounts to billions and which is shouldered by customers.
“Why should we pay for water or electricity that is pilfered or stolen, that is lost due to leaks, negligence, inefficiency, and other causes beyond the control of the consumer? Like electricity, is wasted water subjected to the 12-percent value added tax?” he asked.