2 MCWD board members told to explain absences

NEW BOARD. A photo taken on Oct. 31, 2023 shows (from left) Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama administering the oath-taking ceremony of Melquiades Feliciano, Aristotle Batuhan and Nelson Yuvallos, whom he appointed as members of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District Board of Directors. The three join board members Danilo Ortiz and Earl Bonachita.
NEW BOARD. A photo taken on Oct. 31, 2023 shows (from left) Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama administering the oath-taking ceremony of Melquiades Feliciano, Aristotle Batuhan and Nelson Yuvallos, whom he appointed as members of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District Board of Directors. The three join board members Danilo Ortiz and Earl Bonachita. Earl Kim Padronia

TWO board members of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) Board of Directors (BOD) have been issued show cause orders (SCOs) for failing to attend two board meetings in November 2023.

MCWD chairman Jose Daluz III, on Nov. 20, sent SCOs to lawyers Earl Bonachita and Danilo Ortiz for failing to attend the scheduled regular and special board meetings on Nov. 6 and Nov. 13, despite due notice and receipt of the agenda, and for attending and conducting “unauthorized” meetings in the Office of the Board of Directors “together with other persons,” on Nov. 7 and Nov. 17.

Bonachita and Ortiz, however, in a joint reply to the SCO, questioned the legitimacy of Daluz’s board, along with the need to use the term “show cause” for asking for explanations for their absence. They pointed to Mayor Michael Rama’s order on Oct. 31, which “fired” Daluz, Miguelito Pato and Jodelyn May Seno, and appointed Melquiades Feliciano, Aristotle Batuhan and Nelson Yuvallos to replace them.

Bonachita and Ortiz said they joined the new board headed by Feliciano because they believe that it is more “congruent and receptive” of their views, in respect of policies that they found “disturbing.” The two lawyers were referring to the alleged aggressive push of Daluz’s board to approve the three desalination bulk water projects.

In a text message to SunStar Cebu on Tuesday, Dec. 5, Daluz said he has yet to receive a copy of Bonachita and Ortiz’s response, as he had just arrived from an out-of-the-country trip.

‘Proximate cause’

In a joint statement dated Dec. 4 obtained by SunStar Cebu on Tuesday, Bonachita and Ortiz clarified that they no longer recognize Daluz’s board as the legitimate MCWD board. This, they explained, is the primary reason for their absence from the board meetings presided over by Daluz.

“We believe the authority of the mayor to remove and replace directors is beyond cavil, as even you, yourself, had stridently espoused and benefited from such power when you were appointed together with four others by the late mayor Edgardo Labella to replace the directors he had removed,” reads a portion of the joint reply.

Bonachita, former Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu City chapter president, and fellow lawyer Ortiz joined MCWD earlier this year after the terms of lawyer Francisco “Frank” Malilong Jr. and Manolette Dinsay as MCWD board members ended on Dec. 31, 2022.

Bonachita and Ortiz maintained that the power of the mayor to remove members of the MCWD board, proceeding from his statutory right to appoint members of the board, was already affirmed in the ruling of Branch 17 of the Regional Trial Court of Cebu in Civil Case R-CEB-19-09477-CV.

“After the issuance of Mayor Rama’s order on 31 October 2023, we recused ourselves from your board and attended the meetings of what we believe to be the new and legitimate board chaired by Melquiades Feliciano,” Bonachita and Ortiz said.

Aside from the mayor’s order, the two lawyers also said they joined Feliciano’s board due to concerns regarding policies and directions.

Financial statement

Bonachita and Ortiz also said Daluz’s camp has been reluctant to provide them with a presentation of the water district’s financial statement showing its fiscal status. Although the new board provided data, they said what was supplied were bare financial summaries “without the needed projections and simulations.”

This came after the two questioned the need for the “sudden” decision of MCWD, under Daluz, to implement an increase in water rates for industrial and commercial consumers starting Dec. 1.

They also hit Daluz’s camp for allegedly “aggressively” pushing to approve three desalination bulk water projects, namely, the Cebu City South (Inayawan) Desalinated Seawater Project and the Marigondon and Canjulao Bulk Water Supply Projects, which they said they have been “actively albeit vainly” opposing.

Feliciano already ordered these projects stopped for further review; however, Daluz, based on an earlier interview, said these bulk water projects will push through, with the bidding of the water desalination project in Inayawan conducted last Nov. 14.

The Inayawan project aims to generate 30 million liters per day and will supply water to the south of Cebu City and certain areas in Talisay City. The facility is expected to be completed in one year.

Daluz earlier said MCWD has resorted to desalination amid the problem of contaminated groundwater and siltation of surface water. He said water rates will probably go up, but the increase will be gradual. He added that MCWD will absorb any losses before raising the rates.

Bonachita and Ortiz alleged that for these three bulk water projects alone, MCWD has to pay about P67 billion over 29 years from 2025 to 2054.

Both are afraid that the burden of paying these expenses will be passed on to the consumers when there are alternative solutions to the desalinated and bulk water supply that are cheaper.

They said alternative measures include the reduction of the Non-Revenue Water that has already overwhelmed the tolerable threshold of 20 percent for the past three years, as more than 20 percent of the water from MCWD is wasted due to leaking or some other reasons.

They said MCWD could also divert its resources and funds to the harvesting and storing of rainwater; enhancing MCWD’s water facilities; construction of mini-dams and impounding sites; importation of surface water from another province with abundant supply; treatment of recycled water; installation of service pipes to unserved and under-served areas; and many more. / EHP, WBS

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