DOJ distances water review from Villar Prime Water issue

Lian Buan

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DOJ distances water review from Villar Prime Water issue
(UPDATED) Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra asks Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay Villar to inhibit 'to dispel suspicions'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has asked Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay Villar to inhibit from the Department of Justice (DOJ) review of water concession agreements.

“I requested Usec villar to inhibit herself to dispel suspicions that the DOJ contract review may not be completely objective due to an alleged possible conflict of interest,” Guevarra said on Friday, December 13.

Undersecretary Villar, who is married to Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, was dragged into the issue after website Politico pointed out that she is the undersecretary in charge of the DOJ legal staff, Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC), all of which were involved in the DOJ review that recommended revoking the extension of concession agreements of Maynilad and Manila Water beyond 2022, and set off the renegotiation of the contracts.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself alluded to the Villars as a potential water partner if Maynilad and Manila Water do not agree to the government’s terms, saying “Nandiyan naman si Villar, nandiyan naman si…karaming mayayaman ninyo na… Go and start to develop businesses.” (The Villars are there, there are many of you rich people, go and start to develop businesses.)

Prime Water Infrastructure Corporation is led by Paolo Villar, brother of Secretary Mark Villar and son of Senator Cynthia Villar and former senator Manny Villar.

Guevarra led the review

Undersecretary Aglipay Villar said on Thursday, December 12, that it was Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra who led the review.

“It was the Secretary who led the review.  Prior to that review there were already several provisions that were identified as being onerous and that was reported in the broadsheets and news and that’s why the President had asked the DOJ to conduct a more thorough review which was headed by the Secretary and not me,” Undersecretary Aglipay Villar told reporters on Thursday, 

Asked if she took part in the review in any capacity, Undersecretary Aglipay Villar said: “It was the legal staff who the Secretary worked with. I don’t want to even dignify further by answering further accusations.”

All justice undersecretaries are assigned to attached agencies of the DOJ. Assignments were given August 2019, according to a department order obtained by Politico.

Guevarra also cleared his undersecretary of any impropriety, and said “any good lawyer” will come to similar findings.

“Remember I’m the one on top in all of this kaya wala puwede maki-alam niyan na di ko makikita or papayagan ko,” (Nobody could intervene without me seieing or approving it.) Guevarra said.

“Believe me when I say that any good lawyer will see the inequitable provisions in the water concession agreements, and the fact that Usec Emmeline Villar is part of the DOJ review team is totally irrelevant,” said Guevarra. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.