THERE is more than meets the eye in the uprising of the Cagayan de Oro City Water District workforce. The protest is just the tip of the iceberg’s footnote to a bigger story, which itself is not complicated as others would like us to believe. The core of the matter here is accountability, that lonely word in governance that some of our public officials elected or otherwise ought be more familiar with.

The water district’s Board of Directors would like to cast the employee union’s three-week old protest as being provoked by the discontinuation of certain personnel benefits and privileges. If the Board’s newspaper advertisements are to be believed, the ongoing protest is just a petty reaction of a bunch of disgruntled freeloaders wanting more than they deserved. Flow, the COWD labor union, on the other hand, says it merely wants to protect the welfare of water consumers, and had to take the fight in the picket line because of the inaction of the Board.

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There is truth in the Board’s insistence that many employees are resentful to see their benefits pared down to the minimum. To link the labor union’s mass action to these downsized perks, however, is patently absurd and one that defies logic. For one, these benefits had been eliminated as early as 2007, and not a whimper was heard from Flow members.

Incidentally, the year Flow members lost their bonuses and other privileges was the time when COWD started paying for the controversial bulk water supply around P12 million a month based on the original P10.45 per cubic meter rate at 10,000 cubic meters per day (it has illegally increased since, thanks to the fraudulent amendments in the original contract that up to this day is being suffered by water consumers). So it was commonsense for employees to blame the loss of benefits to the high cost of the bulk water supply project, just as it is convenient for the Board to insinuate that this must be the union*s motive in rocking the boat.

The one thing that is slowly being drowned out mostly likely in subtle, deliberate ways in this pendulum of allegations, sadly, is the very core of the problem at COWD: the series of crimes committed in the bidding, awarding and the contract signing of the 2004 Bulk Water Supply Project.

Series of crimes, indeed, albeit bordering in tragicomedy, because nowhere in the known annals of public procurement in this city has it been known that a spurious contract, after having mysteriously escaped the parties that were supposed to guard it against any shred of error, is given the semblance of legitimacy, causing irreparable harm to the public. Even the corruption-riddled Emano administration can’t top that (at least during the benighted nine-year reign of Vice Mayor Vicente Emano, onerous contracts were signed as they were, unpretentiously).

And now the Board has the gumption to depict the conflict at water district as a simple labor problem. While we understand that no other board member was involved in the terribly anomalous bulk water contract except for Mr. Sandy Bas Sr., the Board should not delude itself to think that it is not legally liable for its inaction over it. Its ambivalence is exceptionally telling, more so that it tries to trivialize the problem by smearing the men and women behind the water district: Its workers. The Board’s inaction amounts to consent; its consent an affirmation of its members’ lack of accountability and, inevitably, its participation to the series of crimes that until now is being shamelessly pulled off against us, Cagayan de Oro citizens.