Capitol slams proposal for water district per LGU

Cebu Provincial Capitol
Cebu Provincial CapitolFile photo

THE proposal to set up water districts in each local government unit (LGU) lacks careful consideration and may result in politicization in water resources detrimental to the consumers, provincial government officials said.

Cebu Provincial Government officials were reacting to Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama’s proposal to create separate and independent water districts in each LGU currently being serviced by the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD).

In a press conference on Monday, May 6, 2024, Capitol legal consultant Rory Jon Sepulveda said Rama’s suggestion was “unfeasible” as majority of the suppliers of water to Cebu City residents that flows through the MCWD pipelines draw water from sources outside of the city.

Creating an independent water district per town or city under the MCWD service area would also lead to each LGU monopolizing and denying other LGUs access to their water, he said.

MCWD serves the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu and Talisay, and the towns of Cordova, Consolacion, Liloan and Compostela.

Sepulveda said though the provincial government has no jurisdiction over the highly urbanized Cebu City, it was concerned about what would happen to Cebu City residents if Rama’s proposal would be carried out.

“Kung magdinawo na ang other areas sa ila-ila na lang, mag aho-aho ta, asa man intawn mokuha og tubig para sa siyudad sa Sugbo?” Sepulveda said.

(If the other areas choose to be selfish and leave each LGU to fend for itself, where would we get water for Cebu City?)

He added that one of the largest suppliers of MCWD was the joint venture investment of the Cebu Provincial Government and the Cebu Manila Water Development Inc. (CMWDI).

The Province also has ongoing bulk water supply projects across the province slated to help address the water shortage not only in the province but also in Cebu City, Sepulveda said.

In the same press conference, Provincial Legal Officer Donato Villa said the Provincial Government has pushed through with the desilting of the Luyang River in Carmen town, northern Cebu to maximize the supply of water to MCWD.

Last Sunday, May 5, the Cebu City Public Information Office had reported Rama’s renewal of his call, first made last April 26, for LGUs under the MCWD franchise to buy out the piping systems of the water district installed within their jurisdictions and form their own water districts.

He said consumers would be better served if their respective localities attended to their needs.

Rama added that this would also end disputes between the LGUs and the water district.

“Para way lalis (so no more arguments),” Rama said.

Reason he wants them out

Rama made the call after after the mayors of seven towns and cities served by the MCWD met on April 15 with Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and the camp of MCWD Chairman Jose Daluz III, whom the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) had suspended for six months last March 15.

The meeting prompted the governor to declare the LWUA’s intervention in MCWD untimely, creating confusion among employees and consumers as the province faces the effects of the El Niño phenomenon. She threatened to invoke the general welfare clause of the Local Government Code to ensure the status quote at MCWD if LWUA insisted on its intervention.

The LWUA had suspended Daluz and MCWD directors Miguelito Pato and Jodelyn May Seno for six months last March 15, and installed an interim board at the water district, so it could investigate issues at the MCWD.

The interim board suspended MCWD General Manager Edgar Donoso last April 12 for 90 days for defying the interim board’s request to turn over documents on MCWD’s transactions. John Dx Lapid was appointed officer-in-charge general manager to replace him, but the suspended MCWD officials barred Lapid from entering the MCWD main office in downtown Cebu City on the morning of April 15.

Better on our own

In an interview on Monday, May 6, Mayor Rama reiterated that he is advocating for local government units, including Cebu City, to establish their own water districts.

Rama said the City has the capacity to start its own local water district as an identified highly urbanized city.

“Cebu City is economically and actively rising,” said Rama, who emphasized that water requirements should be prioritized.

Rama added that given that the majority of those served by MCWD are from Cebu City, it should stand on its own. He estimated the Cebu City customers to be around 70 percent of the utility’s total number of customers.

The mayor said he is already in discussions with the LWUA on the establishment of the City’s own water district. But as for the details of these discussions, he merely said, “Secret.”

Last Sunday, MCWD’s Daluz also rejected Rama’s proposal for LGUs to create their own water districts, saying there might be too much politics in LGUs.

He instead proposed that LGUs collaborate with MCWD, providing capital for major water infrastructure projects and investing in pipe replacement through joint venture agreements.

Affecting operations

There is one thing that all parties in the dispute agree on, and that is that the dispute has affected MCWD’s operations.

“Looking back, obviously, yes,” Rama said Monday when asked if the dispute between the City Government and the MCWD management over control of the water utility’s board of directors had contributed to the water crisis being experienced in some areas of the city.

Rama said if the dispute between City Hall and MCWD had been set aside, then water supply issues amid the ongoing drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon could have been prevented.

He said MCWD is not “serving” and fulfilling its duties anymore, adding, “I want them out.”

In a text message on Monday, Daluz’s take on the water crisis was this: “The real issue is his (Rama’s) undue and unwarranted interference in the MCWD.”

Daluz also said the water crisis is brought about by the El Niño phenomenon but that the dispute has worsened the situation, as the mayor has denied permits for the Lusaran and desalination projects, which would have improved MCWD’s water supply.

On Monday, Joselito Thomas Baena, the second LWUA-appointed officer-in-charge general manager, after Lapid quit, agreed with Rama that the dispute has affected MCWD’s operations.

Baena emphasized the importance of adhering to the directives of the LWUA and the mayor, adding that the mayor holds the power to appoint members of the board of directors and to remove them.

“The continued defiance of the removed directors and the suspended general manager are counter-productive. Instead of helping everyone move forward and look for solutions to the current problem, their attitude of non-cooperation and defiance is proving to be a great roadblock to the detriment of the consumer,” he said.

Water deficit

MCWD spokesperson Minerva Gerodias told SunStar Cebu that as of May 6, MCWD’s total production stood at 240,644 cubic meters, from the usual 301,000 cubic meters a day under normal circumstances, meaning that the water deficit is 60,356 cubic meters.

This is an improvement from what was recorded last April 26, when the deficit was over 63,000 cubic meters of water per day or over 21 percent of its usual production.

As of April 26, there were already 23 barangays in Cebu City, Talisay City and Mandaue City that MCWD listed as severely affected by the diminishing water supply.

Weather bureau Pagasa said Cebu is under drought brought by the El Niño phenomenon that will last until June.

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