Manila Water employees jittery over Razon’s entry
(UPDATED) After winning a P7.4-billion arbitral ruling, Manila Water supposedly had reason to cheer. But the company had to look for areas of compromise, as President Rodrigo Duterte launched a relentless attack against the Ayalas, accusing them of “syndicated estafa” over what he claimed were onerous provisions in their water concession deals with government.
Manila Water’s fate became somewhat clearer this week when it was announced that businessman Enrique Razon is buying a 25% stake for P10.7 billion. While there are no clear ties between Razon and Duterte, he is perceived by many to be an ally. And that is enough for the stock market to cheer.
But how are employees of Manila Water taking the entry of Razon into the company? Has morale dipped across the embattled conglomerate or are they taking everything in stride?
Sources from within Manila Water are unsure about overall employee sentiment, but one thing they’re clear about is wanting to hear from management first than the media about latest developments and movements within the company.
Rumors about the entry of Razon into the company had swirled since 2019 when Duterte started cursing Manila Water after the water crisis that swept the metro and the allegedly onerous concession agreement.
Employees told Rappler they wish that the company’s recent moves were discussed with them during town halls or important meetings – admittedly a shot in the dark, considering the sensitivity of negotiations and what’s at stake.
They were surprised when the company announced that Razon will have a larger say over the company's day-to-day operations.
A longtime employee was not surprised with the secrecy and somehow expected the changes.
“Whoever the owner is, we will still have our jobs. Let them [owners] worry over those things,” the employee said in Filipino.
Prior to the announcement of the deals, Manila Water belatedly held its Christmas party/general assembly last Thursday, January 30, in Blue Leaf in Eastwood. Our source was unable to say why the party was delayed but another employee speculated officials probably didn't want to face employees last Christmas when everybody had “hot” questions and they had little information to share.
But an employee from parent Ayala Corporation said the party was moved twice since Manila Water opted to donate funds to Typhoon Tisoy victims last December and helped relief efforts when the Taal Volcano erupted in January. Even the party for the press was canceled.
Manila Water employees were surprised by the presence of the Zobel brothers. Employees said it’s been a while since they attended a company social gathering.
The Zobels briefly addressed employees and told them they are standing with them amid all the uncertainties. The brothers did not say anything more afterwards.
But on Friday, January 31, the business community was all eyes on Manila Water, as it opted for a trading suspension at the Philippine Stock Exchange. On the same day, it announced its plans to raise at least P9 billion through a share sale.
In a quick succession of events, the Philippine Star on Saturday reported that the company was willing to sell to Razon. The following week, Manila Water announced the so-called partnership with the ports and gaming tycoon – a detail that was not mentioned to employees.
A town hall was then held after, where Manila Water president Rene Almendras candidly answered some questions. Employees were told that the company’s key officials will keep their positions – as this was supposedly part of the deal.
However, a disclosure made on Thursday, February 6, may change that, since Razon will have a bigger say on the company’s structure and operations with his 51% voting rights.
From a strictly business perspective, the deal makes sense as analysts agree that it somewhat takes the heat off the company.
Razon and the Ayalas are actually no strangers to each other as they had recently teamed up for the development of Wawa Dam. Moreover, Razon brings his expertise in global operations at a time when the Ayala group has also started to look at neighboring Asian countries to expand.
An influential business figure, however, told Rappler to "always check the politics.” The source said, “Look into Razon’s partners. One might be connected to Duterte's idol.”
Who are these new people coming into Manila Water? Employees are still quite jittery, especially with little information on hand. – Rappler.com
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