Hontiveros supports call for congressional probe

MCWD.
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A LOCAL legislator has backed Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama’s call for congressional intervention on the issue of board movements at the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD), urging Cebu City’s two House representatives to initiate an inquiry in aid of legislation on the issue hounding the water district.

During the regular session on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, Cebu City Councilor Donaldo Hontiveros, acting vice mayor, delivered a privilege speech which expressed support for Rama while emphasizing several issues in the water district.

Hontiveros is acting vice mayor since Rama is currently in Australia on his vacation leave, which began last Oct. 31.

“I believe that the City Mayor’s action in appointing a new MCWD board chairman is not arbitrary or malicious,” Hontiveros said.

Before he departed for his vacation, Rama appointed last Oct. 31 retired general Melquiades Feliciano, lawyer Aristotle Batuhan and businessman Nelson Yuvallos to replace MCWD chairman Jose Daluz III and board members Jodelyn May Seno and Miguelito Pato.

But Daluz, Seno and Pato have refused to leave their posts, resulting in two boards of directors holding meetings at the MCWD office.

Burden

In his speech, Hontiveros also said three bulk water projects that MCWD has undertaken under Daluz’s leadership would only burden the consuming public.

MCWD has entered into joint venture agreements (JVAs) with the proponents of three bulk water desalination projects, namely the Cebu City South (Inayawan) Desalinated Seawater Project, Marigondon, and Canjulao Bulk Water Supply Projects.

Hontiveros said these projects are not for the best interests of Cebu City because these will increase the current water rates by “at least 70 to 75 percent.”

For these projects alone, MCWD would pay at least P66 billion for 29 years from 2025 to 2054, which will cost the district P2.3 billion per year, he said.

“How can the MCWD possibly pay such amounts? The answer is obvious. The burden of this will inevitably be passed on to the end consumers, resulting in a very sure increase of water rates,” Hontiveros said.

Non-revenue water

Hontiveros also hit MCWD by raising its problem on non-revenue water (NRW).

He said the Cebu City is already in the “critical stage” of a water crisis, as revealed by University of San Carlos Water Resources Director Virgilio Espeleta, emphasizing that MCWD itself also revealed that the city has a supply deficit of about 250 million liters per day (MLD).

Citing the Commission on Audit (COA) report from 2020 to 2022, Hontiveros reiterated MCWD’s high NRW and its failure to address the issue, saying this failure results in an annual loss of MCWD revenue averaging at least P117 million.

NRW refers to water that is produced but is “lost” before it reaches the customer. It includes water leaking out of pipes and water given for free for fighting fires.

Hontiveros said COA placed MCWD’s non-revenue water at 25.26 percent in 2020, 29.04 percent in 2021 and 32.67 percent in 2022 when Local Water Utilities Administration Memorandum Circular 2010-004 mandates the acceptable NRW level at only 20 percent.

Amend law

Last Dec. 1, Mayor Rama said he wanted the national government to intervene on the matter of the appointments and dismissal of the board members of MCWD, and that he had already spoken with Cebu City South District Rep. Eduardo “Edu” R. Rama Jr. and Cebu City North District Rep. Rachel Marguerite “Cutie” B. del Mar on this.

SunStar Cebu reached out to del Mar for comment on the City Government’s call for Congressional intervention, but she had not provided an answer as of press time.

Presidential Decree (PD) 198, or the Provincial Water Utilities Act of 1973, says board members shall be appointed by the appointing authority, meaning the mayor or governor of the area covered by the water district, depending on the number of active water service connections within the boundary of the city or municipality. But it does not specify whether the same appointing authority may also remove the water district’s board members.

Del Mar has proposed a bill to amend PD 198 to allow local government units (LGUs) to intervene in water districts. The bill encourages the oversight of LGUs on the performance of water districts.

This is because at present, Section 7 of PD 198, as amended by PD 768, states that upon filing a resolution to form a water district, “the local government or governments concerned shall lose ownership, supervision and control or any right whatsoever over the district except as provided herein.” (CTL)

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