LWUA changes stand: Mayors have no power to remove BOD members

SunStar Local News
SunStar Local News

THE Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) has changed its position regarding the authority of the local chief executive to remove the water district’s members of the board of directors (BOD).

In a 20-page “comment with an entry of appearance” dated April 5, 2024, the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) prayed for the Supreme Court to declare that the local chief executive has no authority or power to remove the water district’s BOD members.

This is in response to the Supreme Court’s requiring the respondents, including the late mayor Edgardo Labella, the late acting LWUA administrator Jeci Lapus, and interim BOD members Roberto San Andres, Eileen Dela Vega and Cristina Marcelina, to file their comments on the petition filed by ousted MCWD BOD members Ralph Sevilla, Augustus Pe Jr., and Cecilia Adlawan.

This petition challenges the Regional Trial Court’s decision dated June 30, 2023, and order dated Aug. 15, 2023.

The Supreme Court’s notice, issued through a resolution dated Jan. 31, 2024, and received by the SaLiGal Law Office on March 26, 2024, specifies that the respondents have 10 days from notice to submit their comments.

The OGCC, in the statement, said LWUA adopted the position of Pe Jr., Sevilla and Adlawan, whom Labella removed in 2019.

“LWUA respectfully manifests that it adopts the Petitioners’ position that the Local Chief Executive has no authority to remove the Board of Directors (BOD) of the Local Water Districts,” the document read.

In a statement sent on Friday, June 7, Amando Virgil Ligutan, legal counsel of Pe et al., said LWUA, through the OGCC, adopting their legal position is a big boost to the case they filed before the Supreme Court.

“It is not that surprising, though considering the strong and well-founded legal arguments we raised going to the Supreme Court. But it still thrills me knowing one of our opponents is taking our side before the Supreme Court. Vindication for MCWD directors Sevilla, Pe, and Adlawan is near,” Ligutan said.

Meanwhile, MCWD incumbent chairman Jose Daluz III, in a text message on Friday, said he agrees that the mayor has no power to remove the BOD members.

Asked if the recent opinion would conflict with their appointments, Daluz said there is no conflict, saying Labella only recommended the removal of Pe and company, and it was LWUA who approved their removal.

“In the case of Mayor Mike (Michael Rama), he did not get any approval from LWUA on his recommendation to remove us,” Daluz said.

On LWUA’s position on the authority of the local chief executive to remove the MCWD BODs, the document provided three reasons:

1. Fixed term and non-career service: The MCWD board members hold non-career service positions with fixed terms as defined by Presidential Decree (PD) 198, and can only be removed for specific causes outlined in this decree and relevant laws.

2. Express legal prohibition: Presidential Decree 198 explicitly prohibits the local chief executive from removing MCWD board members, contrary to the judge’s application of the doctrine of implication.

3. Preventing institutional crisis: LWUA designated its personnel as the MCWD Interim Board to prevent a serious institutional crisis that could disrupt MCWD operations and harm the public.

Subsequent

In October 2023, Rama also removed MCWD Chairman Jose Daluz III, vice chairman Miguelito Pato, and secretary Jodelyn May Seno from their positions and were replaced by retired major general Melquiades Feliciano, Aristotle Batihan, Nelson Yuvallos, including lawyers Danilo Ortiz and Earl Bunachita.

On March 15, 2024, LWUA administrator Jose Moises Salonga announced the installation of LWUA officers, specifically Members of the Interim BODs of MCWD, including Maria Rosan Perez, Noel Samonte, and Anabelle Gravador, overseen by LWUA Deputy Administrator Eileen Dela Vega.

LWUA took partial intervention of MCWD’s policy-making authority for a period of six months in order to investigate issues surrounding MCWD.

The Daluz-led board does not recognize LWUA’s authority to suspend them.

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