Seares: Mayor Rama shifts to ‘legalistic’ moves to oust Joey Daluz as chairman and maybe even as director of MCWD. City Legal Office formally demands that Daluz explain in writing why he shouldn’t be ousted. Daluz accuses mayor of usurping board’s power.

(From left) Atty. Colin Rosell and Atty. Jerone Castillo (File Photo)
(From left) Atty. Colin Rosell and Atty. Jerone Castillo (File Photo)

INSTEAD of just seeking to replace Jose Daluz III as chairman of the board of directors of Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD), Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama may now want him removed also as director. From relying on an informal installation of the new board chairman, the mayor is now asking for promised “legal formalities.”

Two documents announced at a City Hall press briefing Monday, May 22, 2023 by City Administrator Collin Rosell and City Legal Officer Jerone Castillo show the mayor’s shift to the legal path, from an informal, no-direct-confrontation approach in changing the MCWD leadership. The papers are:

[] A letter from C.A . Rosell, by authority of the mayor, to the MCWD board asking for the “legal formalities” that were “promised at the May 17, 2023 mayor’s meeting” with three directors and the supposed new chairman Engr. Miguel Pato.. [A source said the mayor’s meeting at City Hall was held on May 16 at 4 p.m., not May 17 as cited by Castillo and Rosell. Daluz also said it was May 16. The MCWD board meeting immediately after that City Hall meeting was held on May 18, which didn’t take up the subject of the replacement of the chairman.]

[] A show-cause demand from the City Legal Office for Daluz and two other directors (the board at the time) to explain in writing within 72 hours why they should not be removed as chairman and/or member for the reasons listed by MCWD Employees Union in a September 2022 complaint with the Visayas Ombudsman. The Ombudsman had forwarded the complaint to Mayor Rama, “for appropriate action,” which the mayor then sent to the CLO for investigation.

In that press-con, Rosell explained the process that Mayor Rama apparently adopted in the case against Casas: The mayor didn’t want the formal way. Rama installed Daluz’s replacement by getting the consensus of four MCWD directors, subject to “legal formalities.” But with Daluz’s publicly declaring he wouldn’t budge from his seat, the mayor is now shifting to the “legalistic” procedure.

WHAT THE DEVELOPMENTS SAY. The demand from CLO indicates that what’s on the mayor’s table is no longer limited to Daluz and his replacement as chairman. He may also be removed as a member, which reportedly wasn’t the mayor’s original thrust. Of course, that fate similarly befalls on the two directors besides Daluz, “collateral targets” but included in the Ombudsman complaint.

The new moves, plainly in answer to Daluz’s “defiance” or “belligerence,” also impliedly tell that the mayor’s office at first wasn’t being “legalistic” in handling the case. The referral to the CLO and the demand for explanation came after the removal was effected and announced. Atty. Castillo mentioned “due process” when he talked about the letter.

NOT AN MCWD BOARD MEETING. It has become clear that the May 16 meeting, which Attys. Castillo and Rosell repeatedly cited in Monday’s presscon, was not an MCWD board meeting.

Daluz, in a press statement late Monday afternoon, May 22, 2023, said it was not a validly convened board meeting. The board in that meeting “neither removed the current chairman nor installed a new one.” The meeting was illegal, Daluz said, with the mayor “usurping power that exclusively belongs to the board.”

The meeting -- a source knowledgeable about the event told me -- was called by the mayor “to discuss El Nino preparations.” Present were the mayor, some members of his “Work Force,” and the MCWD manager and other officials. Daluz was not in the “invitees” list, contradicting an earlier claim that he snubbed the meeting. (“They didn’t invite me. I was not absent,” Daluz said.) Engineer Pato, the supposed new chairman, wasn’t physically present; he joined the discussion in a phone patch.

To the mayor and his team, it was a removal of Daluz and installation of Pato -- minus only the “legal formalities.” They cited an “omnibus, unanimous” vote. To neutral observers, it was at most an expression of a consensus, a rehearsal, not the action the law requires in electing a board chairman. That they’re just seeking the “legal formalities” concedes that the said formalities were not yet complied with.

The mayor’s team admits that as much, when it now asks for the “legal formalities” that were supposedly suggested by one director.

CAN MAYOR RAMA SWING IT? Will the MCWD board give Mayor Mike the “legal formality” he’s asking for, that is, a formal vote for the replacement of Daluz?

It’s up to at least three directors in a board of five. New appointees Atty. Earl Bonachita and Atty. Danny Ortiz plus one -- either Engr. Pato or Judelyn Mae Seno -- might deliver the vote, if it’s true they already informally gave their consent. Chairman Daluz is expected not to vote against himself.

The directors may want to show gratitude to the appointing authority, the city mayor, or may show some sense of independence. Some City Hall watchers think the mayor most likely will get the vote; they say that it was already informally expressed last May 16 by the three directors and the chairmanship “accepted” by Pato.

LEGAL POSITION ON MAYOR’S AUTHORITY. At least four lawyers present at the Monday press-con -- two others from the City Legal Office, aside from Castillo and Rosell -- looked ready to defend to the death the position that the mayor has the authority to appoint the MCWD directors and the power to fire them (“the power to hire and fire”). But nobody from media raised that.

The Supreme Court has long settled the issue of appointing authority. In Michael Rama et al vs. Judge Gilbert Moises and Gwendolyn Garcia et al [GR#197146, Dec. 6, 2016), the SC ruled that the mayor of Cebu City is the “appointing authority” of MCWD directors.

But Presidential Decree #198 of May 25, 1973 is also explicit about directors of local water districts having a fixed term and they can be removed for cause only. The same law adopts the policy of “operational autonomy” of local water districts, which the Department of Interior & Local Government (DILG) has diligently enforced, with the least “intervention” of politicians.

The mayor, as the appointing authority, can fire directors of water districts but the action is subject to review and approval by the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA).

As to the election of board chairman, the right is given solely to the board; even the Rama team acknowledges that. []


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