CEBU

Seares: How 3 MCWD directors can help solve water crisis: drop lawsuit and leave

LAST Nov. 8, three of the five directors of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) filed with the Cebu Regional Trial Court a petition so they could stay in the board until they end their term.

The remaining three directors are the plaintiffs in the complaint, along with the firm MCWD, as represented purportedly by them, and the acting general manager.

They are asking for a temporary restraining order and injunction against Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella and officials of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), specifically, Acting Administrator Jecl Lapus and three other managers who were named to an interim board that LWUA created to replace the MCWD board after the mayor terminated last Oct. 15 all the five directors.

In sum, the complainants want to continue serving as directors and they petition the court to order LWUA to stop from taking over operations of the board and other offices and departments of the MCWD.

Bit of background

Some context first:

[1] Only three of the five directors are suing: chairman Joel Mari Yu resigned and a director, Procopio Fernandez, didn’t join the lawsuit. While Yu initially stonewalled, he later relented and quit without explaining why. Manager Jose Singson Jr. also resigned but his assistant manager took over.

[2] Mayor Labella acknowledged the power of LWUA under the law to “review and approve” his order terminating the board members en masse. He said he’d wait for the approval before appointing the replacement directors.

[3] The board being limited by the law to policy-making, the board turmoil does not affect MCWD’s day-to-day operations. Projects and programs, however, cannot be decided and contracted for without the board.

Two boards: EB, IB

The conflict is over two BoDs: one, the existing board (EB) composed of the remaining three directors–Augustus Pe, Ralph Sevilla and Cecilia Adlawan; the other, the interim board (IB), comprising three LWUA officials whom we don’t have to name for now.

Mayor Labella and the mayors of four or five other LGUs served by MCWD expectedly won’t recognize the EB. The LWU that oversees water districts is likely not to recognize its actions too.

Contractors and suppliers will face the dilemma of whom to deal with: the old board or the LWUA-appointed board.

Interestingly, whom will MCWD officials running the water district operations obey and follow? The acting manager is included in the lawsuit as plaintiff; so is MCWD as a juridical person, since technically the board represents it. And how about the employees union?

Legality of termination

There is that major point of dispute, along with the side issues spawned by it: Were the directors lawfully terminated? And the other murky points:

[1] Assuming they could be removed for “just cause,” were they dismissed only after due process, which is supposed to determine if “just cause” existed? Or were they holding confidential positions whose occupants can be removed by mere loss of confidence?

[2] Assuming there was due process, or due process was not required, when did the termination take effect, since LWUA was still reviewing it and hadn’t given yet its approval?

[3] Could LWUA intervene by creating the interim board when under the law the water district had to be indebted to it for LWUA to come in and take over only one seat in the board?

Sense of ‘delicadeza’

The legal jazz aside though, the argument of Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia about “delicadeza” is relevant and helpful even if it may not survive cold logic in the courtroom. Friends of former MCWD chairman Yu would like to think that he stepped down because of some “sense of propriety.”

While the directors may not be totally faulted for the water crisis, there have been some factors outside their control: most of them had served barely a third of their six-year term (two directors for only six-eight months); there was no push or shove by past mayors and governors; sins of omission of past directors and LGU officials had piled up and were now dumped on the existing board.

Despite all that, Governor Gwen’s reminder rings: “Delicadeza,” the sense of propriety, not their political chief’s prodding, must tell them to leave and leave quietly.

The three directors’ latching on to their seats may be legally tenable but their continued stay can’t be justified on most everything else.

For one, how can they still work to help solve the water crisis under the condition of distrust and animosity that their defiant litigation has created?


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