EXPLAINER: LGUs like Lapu-Lapu and Mandaue cannot nominate MCWD directors. Under existing law, private sectors, not local governments, nominate and the Cebu City mayor, not any board, appoints. LWUA just affirms.

EXPLAINER: LGUs like Lapu-Lapu and Mandaue cannot nominate MCWD directors. Under existing law, private sectors, not local governments, nominate and the Cebu City mayor, not any board, appoints. LWUA just affirms.
File photos/Contributed

[] There’s a way: Amend the law but changes may take longer in Congress as changes may be “impacted” by Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling on constitutionality and autonomy and Cebu City’s assets in MCWD

[] Shouldn’t the mess at the local water district be resolved first before considering changes of structure in the MCWD board? To which of the two boards would directors representing LGUs be appointed?

MCWD or Metropolitan Cebu Water District has been “considering” the addition of more members to its board of directors who will represent Mandaue City, Lapu-Lapu City, and Talisay City and the four towns of Cordova, Consolacion, Liloan and Compostela under Cebu Province. Cebu City is the sole local government unit (LGU) appointing all the MCWD directors authorized under the Local Water Utilities Law.

The plan was announced the day after a January 24, 2024 meeting of the board led by Jose Daluz III who said 49 percent of MCWD clients are in areas outside of Cebu City. Daluz said, “It would only be fair for the cities and towns outside the city to have a voice in the board.”

TWO PROBLEMS with the Daluz-led board’s move:

[1] OPERATION OF TWO BOARDS. While the Daluz board is recognized by the current management and employees union of the water district, its legal existence is being disputed by the Cebu City Government, with another board “installed” by Mayor Michael Rama and operating separately. Rama rests on the support from a Regional Trial Court upholding the authority of the city mayor to dismiss MCWD directors as consequence of his power to appoint them, a ruling that is pending appeal at the Supreme Court.

Three new directors led by retired general Melquiades Feliciano -- with Aristotole Batuhan and Nelson Yuvallos -- were appointed last October 2023 by the mayor to replace Daluz and his two directors, Miguelito Pato and Jodelyn May Seno. The three new directors led by Feliciano with the two remaining directors -- lawyers Danilo Ortiz and Earl Bunachita -- constitute another board of directors.

Thus the two boards, or, more precisely, two groups each claiming to be the lawful board. The competition has gone on for some time already, once highlighted by the elite police Swat rushing on November 7, 2023 to the MCWD premises “just in case” hostilities shift from verbal to physical.

The Feliciano/Rama board comprises the three who were appointed by Mayor Rama to replace the Daluz-Pato-Seno threesome. The Daluz board comprises the Rama-dismissed directors plus the old, remaining directors Ortiz and Bunachita.

Daluz-Pato-Seno latched on to their seats and declared the Ortiz-Bunachita seats vacant because the two wouldn’t recognize the Daluz board. Thus, the Daluz board comprises three persons: the Rama-fired directors while the Feliciano board comprises five: the three replacements plus Ortiz and Bunachita who were expelled from the Daluz board.

In announcing plans to increase board membership, Daluz also talked of filling his board’s two vacant seats, along with the “plan” to have directors represent LGUs other than Cebu City.

[2] THE LAW ON RIGHT TO APPOINT. The existing law, Presidential Decree #198 or the Provincial Water Utilities Act of 1973, as amended, mentions only one appointing authority and five board members to be selected from a list of nominees to represent each of these sectors: namely:

-- civic-oriented service clubs;

-- business, commercial, financial organizations;

-- professional associations;

-- educational institutions;

-- women’s organizations.

The law mentions “one member each” from five sectors, who shall be appointed with varying terms at the beginning: two for two years, two for four years and one for six years, so that every two years, two seats or one shall be vacant.

The “appointing authority,” under the law, shall be the mayor of the city or municipality within whose boundaries “more than 75 pecent of the total active water service connections of a water district.” But that provision (section 3(b) of PD 198, the Supreme Court ruled in December 2016, was “partially unconstitutional as it would grant the power to appoint on the basis of geographic coverage and population make-up of a local water district.” Gwen Garcia, then the Cebu governor, had filed a lawsuit to nullify then mayor Tomas Osmeña’s appointment of Joel Mari Yu as a director. She argued that water service connections within Cebu City’s were less than 75 percent.

Last January 24, 2024, when Daluz announced the plan to have other LGUs represented in the MCWD he trotted off December 2023 figures: Of the total of 205,882 service connections, Cebu City had 104,996 but Mandaue City had 33,474; Lapu-Lapu City, 17,639; and Talisay City with the four towns of Cordova, Compostela, Liloan and Consolacion that a combined total of 49,773. Cebu City’s total would still be 50,000-plus less than the required 75 percent but then that requirement had long been struck down by SC edict.

DALUZ BOARD’S PLAN. The plan being studied by the Daluz board is to have the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu nominate their respective representatives in the MCWD board while the Cebu governor will nominate the representative of the five LGUs under it. The names will submit the nominations to the Local Water Utilities Administration.

Questions that may shoot down the plan:

[] The existing law provides for only five directors who shall be picked from nominees submitted by five non-government sectors, which don’t include any local government unit or entity. The present law even provides that no government official or employee shall be appointed director.

[] The appointing authority is the mayor Cebu City, which was affirmed in the 2016 Supreme Court ruling and has remained the law since then. And that ruling was predicated not just on the Local Government Code, which made Cebu City independent of the province, but also of the city’s assets that constituted the properties of MCWD in its early years.

CAN MEMBERSHIP RULES BE CHANGED NOW? They might be done by having some sector representatives come from outside Cebu City but still within the coverage area of MCWD. But they still they’d represent the sectors enumerated in the law, not the LGU he or she resides in, and -- here’s what would possibly shatter the plan -- the appointing authority is the


Would the mayor appoint someone technically nominated by one of the five sectors but actually supported by an LGU outside Cebu City and the said appointees would represent the interest of the city or municipality concerned in the MCWD board?

With the dispute going on between Mayor Rama and Daluz over the authority to dismiss directors, would the mayor yield an inch on Rama’s power to appoint?

Besides, how pragmatic and logical would that move be, given the current situation, where two MCWD boards compete for the authority to operate and LWUA or Local Water Utilities Administration continues to shirk in its job of at least restoring normalcy at MCWD. “Gubot pa sa lukot,” a City Hall official told me this week.

BOARD STRUCTURE REVAMP is better done by amending the law where the impact of the 2016 SC ruling will be harmonized with the proposed changes and -- also important -- removing ambiguities of the law which largely set off the long-running controversy.

Talking about seeking the nominations now and sending them to LWUA betrays disregard for the law on water districts and the high court’s ruling on the appointing authority.


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