"IT'S illegal dismissal."

This was stressed by Councilor Archie Baribar, chairperson of the City Council committee on energy and public utilities, after 60 employees of Bacolod City Water District (Baciwa) were barred from entering the water district office on Monday, January 4.

Baribar said clearly, it was an illegal dismissal because Baciwa is not yet dissolved and their employee and employer relationship is still there.

"The Primewater, who already took over the operations of Baciwa, is only a joint venture agreement, but they did not claim that they are the new owner of Baciwa," he said.

He added there were offers to the employees to retire or voluntarily resign with incentives, so only the position of the employees who accepted the offer can be declared vacant but those who did not accept the offer could stay on their posts.

"It's a blatant violation of security of tenure of the Baciwa employees," Baribar said.

He said the joint venture did not give ownership to Primewater or full control because it was only a 25-year agreement and after 25 years, the operation of the water district will return to Baciwa because they are the owner.

Baribar said those who are still there doing necessary, usual and regular business in Baciwa should not be affected of their employment status just because of the joint venture agreement.

"But, if they (Baciwa) wave their rights, that's a big issue because that's practically a surrender to privatize the operations," he added.

Baribar noted the affected employees can file a case to the proper court to resolve the issue.

On Monday, January 4, the 60 employees tried to report to their respective offices, but they were stopped by security guards assigned at the entrance of the Baciwa's office.

The Baciwa Employee's Union, in a statement, earlier said that on December 29, 2020, Engineer Michael Soliva, acting general manager of Baciwa, issued Office Order 2020-081, informing 60 employees that they had been declared "redundant" by the board and were, therefore, being terminated from their jobs effective last working hour of December 31, 2020.

They said the basis of Soliva was the Board Resolution 172 dated December 23 and signed by Director Mona Dia Jardin with the conformity of Chairman Lorendo Dilag and Vice Chairman Lawrence Villanueva, which declared "redundant" the employees who have opted to remain employed by Baciwa instead of choosing the only two options offered.

They added the board's basis was the erroneous opinion of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel, which they stressed, was part of the joint venture selection committee that negotiated a supposed joint venture agreement that, in truth, handed over the operations and management of Baciwa to Primewater, to the detriment of the people of Bacolod City.

Soliva has issued Office Order 2020-082, that the 60 employees who were already declared redundant effective on the last working hour of December 31, 2020 are not allowed to enter the premises except for the purposes of turnover of accountabilities or to process clearances and other benefits.

To facilitate the mentioned purposes, Soliva said the employees are required to fill out an appointment form available at the main lobby entrance.

"We will allow five persons per day for the said purposes. The Primewater Bacolod security guard assigned at the main lobby entrance shall be furnished [with] a copy of the names of redundant employees with approved appointment to turnover accountabilities and to process their clearances for the day," he said.

In November 2020, PrimeWater took over Baciwa after the court dismissed the Instant Petition for the Declaratory Relief and Declaration of the Nullity of the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) between Baciwa and Primewater Infrastructure Inc. for failure to state a cause of action.

Moreover, Councilor Wilson Gamboa, convenor of Amblig Tubig, said they will support the plan of the 60 employees to file a case against the Baciwa Board of Directors (BOD) who issued their termination.

He said the employee's union can file the case to the CSC or to the Office of the Ombudsman.

He added only the CSC can terminate them and not the BOD.

"It's an insult to all the public servants. The BOD are also public servants to protect the interest of the people and the employees, but they violated the rights of our employees," he added.

"Previously, I have referred to Baciwa's BOD as Primewater's

carpetbaggers and collaborators. Now, they have also become the henchmen of crimewater. It's an illegal termination because only the CSC can issue a legal opinion or order regarding the status of the Baciwa employees. The order of the BOD is an affront to all civil servants and public servants," Gamboa said.

He said there is no such thing as "redundancy" in public office. To terminate these employees is to first abolish the law which created it.