MANILA, Philippines – Cause-oriented groups expressed elation Wednesday over the Status Quo Ante Order issued on May 24 by the Supreme Court ordering a halt or suspension of the bidding process for the vital Angat Dam hydro-electric power plant (HEPP) in Bulacan.

The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) and Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment for Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS), Inc. were pleased that the High Court recognized that “the issues and arguments we raised in our petition are substantial and that a status quo ante order is not only proper but rendered necessary by the situation.”

Newly appointed Chief Justice Renato Corona, invoking a rarely exercised power, issued the order to prevent the state-run Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) from awarding a contract of sale for Angat's hydroelectric power plant to a South Korean state-owned firm that would award the said firm with ownership over the power plant as well as operation and management over the Angat Dam itself.

A status quo ante order is granted for an indefinite period of time until the case is resolved or until the court issues another order lifting it, unlike a temporary restraining order which is granted only for a specified period.

With this order, PSALM and the other respondents Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, National Irrigation Administration and the six companies who joined the bidding led by Korea Water Resources Corp. are prohibited from undertaking any action that will change the status quo, until the Court allows it to do so. The High Court also gave these respondents 10 days to formally comment to the petition filed last week by FDC, IDEALS and other cause-oriented groups.

The Supreme Court en banc is in recess until next month.

Dianne Roa, FDC advocacy coordinator, said the government should not be allowed to treat the Angat HEPP as any other power asset, to the great prejudice of the millions of Filipino people who depend on it for their source of drinking water and irrigation.

“While we exult in this initial triumph, we expect that the Supreme Court will hand a final decision permanently prohibiting PSALM from privatizing the Angat Dam. Privatizing the dam will inevitably lead to violations of the human right to water,” said Roa.

“Through this case, we are hoping that the government will recognize the primacy of the human right to water over and above the need to gain revenues intended for debt payment. FDC, together with all the people who struggled against the privatization of Angat Dam, will see through the end of this case until the human right to water is fully recognized, protected and realized,” said FDC advocacy researcher Christopher Ocampo.

Lawyer Ronald Crisanto Mercado, counsel to the petitioners, said: “The government, including government owned and controlled corporations, having powers emanating from the people, should always take into consideration the interest and welfare of the public.”

Aside from FDC and IDEALS, those who asked for the permanent prohibition were the Akbayan Citizen’s Action Party, Alliance of Progressive Labor, and Rep. Walden Bello.
Angat Dam is the single-most important water source of Metro Manila, providing 97 percent of the water needs of at least 12 million residents of the country’s capital. It irrigates some 31,000 hectares of agricultural land in 20 towns in Bulacan and Pampanga.

Under Republic Act 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) of 2001, PSALM is the government entity mandated to privatize all the assets of the National Power Corp., including Angat HEPP.

On April 28, the Korea Water Resources Development Corp. (K-Water), a utility wholly-owned and controlled by the Republic of South Korea, submitted the highest bid, amounting to $440.8 million, among six qualified bidders. (30)


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