The Villars wallow in a sea of profits
Around 60,000 households and businesses in Angeles City since May 14 poured their anger over the poor service of PrimeWater Infrastructure Corporation. For more than a week, residents of 22 of the city’s 33 barangays suffered from lack of water in their areas. If ever the taps flow, water either comes in trickles or is dirty. PrimeWater is owned by billionaire Manny Villar.
The rotten service is a return to the almost daily suffering of consumers in November 2020. Even then, they pointed out the worsening conditions of water services since PrimeWater and Angeles City Water District took over under a joint venture agreement (JVA) which privatized public services.
The grievances in Angeles City are similar to those of consumers and employees in many other water districts which are under PrimeWater’s control. In Caraga, water district managers said that the contracts are grossly disadvantageous and burdensome to the public because operations, maintenance, billing and collection for water services are handed over to PrimeWater.
The PrimeWater contracts are among those which gave Manny Villar millions upon millions of profit, in addition to real estate and housing businesses. Under Rodrigo Duterte’s rule, he yearly accumulated large amounts of profits and now is the country’s richest billionaire.
Scooping millions of pesos from government
Water districts are losing revenues annually in the towns and cities of Mabalacat, San Fernando, Floridablanca, Guagua and Lubao, all in Pampanga. In 2020, they incurred an average ₱24.42 million in losses. This began when PrimeWater took over the public water distribution agencies from 2016-2018.
On the other hand, PrimeWater has been scooping profits. In the City of San Fernando alone, the company earned an annual average of ₱6.8 million in 2017-2020.
In the neighboring province, the Tarlac City Water District lost ₱33 million since entering into a JVA in 2019. In Bulacan, the Marilao Water District lost ₱50 million in the first year alone.
In 2021, the Commission on Audit reported PrimeWater’s violations of contracts with at least 38 water districts across the archipelago. Among these are the failure to disclose the profit sharing details and lack of plans to improve and ensure the supply of water.
PrimeWater likewise did not pay franchise taxes, including the required amount of bond to the water district. Furthermore, the company failed to put in capital for the improvement of utilities, and left the water district to take these on.
Meanwhile, ordinary consumers are squeezed despite the insufficient, rotten and expensive services. It has been commonplace in PrimeWater franchises to raise prices without public consultations. Fees collected from consumers shot up by an average of 300%. Also, water district employees are being fired in numbers to be replaced with personnel without benefits. Thus, the successful struggle of Bacolod City Water District (Baciwa) employees in August 2021 against the illegal termination of 60 unionists, brought a glimmer of hope.
Favors are flooding
Manny Villar is one of the most favored oligarchs since funding the presidential run of Rodrigo Duterte in 2016. Aside from assigning Villars to key government positions, PrimeWater JVAs are among the juicy contracts rewarded by Duterte to his sponsor.
Since 2016, PrimeWater aggressively took over water districts. From just around 70 during the end of 2019, Villar now controls around 124 water districts in towns and cities in the whole country in 2021. This amounts to almost 1/4 of more or less 500 water districts in the Philippines.
Now that the Villar family has bolstered its political power which threatens the remaining water districts, consumers such as those in Angeles City, and the employees as in Baciwa, are drawing their line of defense.