We own, we benefit

Filipinos own the air, water and land subject to certain regulations. Filipinos do not benefit from its usage in terms of efficient service and/or pricing. Patrimonial should serve Filipinos more than the private sector.

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on December 10, 2019.    

Filipinos own the land, water and air that are defined by our geographical boundaries and the Constitution labels such ownership as patrimonial. This being the case, their use should be beneficial to every Filipino, whether in terms of price and consistency of service. Such ownership includes the future generations.

Filipinos agree to a social contract that requires us to surrender certain rights for government to manage and ensure a just management of these resources or assets and that is where the national and local governments enter. Both regulate the private sector. In simple terms, the case of a market failure would mean government enters the market to correct distortions. Such was the case in the privatization and liberalization of certain patrimonial assets. In 1992, under Fidel V. Ramos or FVR, so-called monopolies were broken down, privatized and liberalized — from telecommunication companies, to power and water. Crises were declared, and laws enacted to respond to the declaration.

“Privatization is the transfer of control of ownership of economic resources from the public sector to the private sector,” while “liberalization is the elimination of state control over economic activities. It implies greater autonomy to the business enterprises in decision making and removal of government interference.” Privatization supposedly leads to liberalization. The other buzzword then was “globalization” or the integration of economies, ensuring ease in the conduct of international trade.

With the pointed attack by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte or PRRD on Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water Co. Inc., the whole idea of benefits arising from patrimonial assets are now front and center. And it is the hope of all that these assets are used to provide good service at rates that are fair for the service actually delivered and not on a promise at some certain point in time, contrary to the agreement. The concession agreement is between the “water companies such as Maynilad and the government. It details the business arrangement where Maynilad is considered as an agent and contractor of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) for the West Zone of the Greater Manila Area.”

Maynilad operates in the cities of Manila (certain areas), Quezon City (certain areas), Makati (certain areas), Caloocan, Pasay, Parañaque, Las Piñas, Muntinlupa, Valenzuela, Navotas and Malabon — all in Metro Manila, and in the cities of Cavite, Bacoor and Imus, and the towns of Kawit, Noveleta and Rosario — all in Cavite province. Maynilad is the largest private water concessionaire in the Philippines in terms of customer base. As of December 2016, it had a customer base of more than nine million. It has been owned for the past 10 years by Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC), DMCI Holdings, Inc. and Marubeni Corp.

Manila Water is a subsidiary of the Ayala Corp., while Maynilad is owned and managed by the DMCI-MPIC Water Co. Inc., a joint venture between the Manuel Pangilinan-led MPIC and DMCI Holdings Inc.

There is the Laguna Lake canceled project which resulted in the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) ordering the Philippine government to pay P800 million to Baggerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDC) for scrapping the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project (LLRP) in 2011. ICSID issued the award on Jan. 23, 2017, six years after former president Benigno Aquino 3rd junked the deal that was twice declared by then-Justice Secretary Leila de Lima as “legal and binding.” The Kaliwa Dam is another loose end in the supply chain because of ancestral domain and other issues.

Interestingly, Congress is foot dragging on the amendment of Commonwealth Act 146, or the “Public Service Act.” The same has been pending since 2016 with the Senate having five Senate bills and the approved House version, all amending Commonwealth Act 146 filed by senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Richard Gordon and Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th. Committee Report 301, recommended the approval of Senate Bill (SB) 1754 titled, “An Act Amending Commonwealth Act 146, Otherwise Known as The Public Service Act, as Amended, and For Other Purposes,” in substitution of SBs 695, 1261, 1291, 1441 and 1594, and taking into consideration House Bill 5828. The proposed bill recognized that “public service” is the much broader term while the term “public utility” is just a sub-set and is much smaller in scope under public service.

The Public Service Act or PSA, was enacted in 1936. More than 83 years have passed since its enactment. Those bills saw the end of the day when the 17th Congress ended. Under the 18th Congress, the measure was filed by Sen. Frank Drilon as SB 13 and it remains pending in the Committee on Public Services and Economic Affairs since July 2019.

Filipinos own the air, water and land subject to certain regulations. Filipinos do not benefit from its usage in terms of efficient service and/or pricing. Patrimonial should serve Filipinos more than the private sector. Yes, the private sector is there to earn but not earn to the detriment of service and the owners of the patrimonial assets. Imagine if the country can do a book value of these assets?

Electricity, water, airwaves are basic to Filipinos just like food, housing and jobs. “Debt is one person’s liability, but another person’s asset.” But it hurts if the owners, the Filipino people, always end up at the losing end and the liability of corporate giants are passed on to the citizens because government did not allow them to earn on a piece of patrimony. Some say it is not that easy. We say, that is the basic proposition that should be the order of the day.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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