Probe on MCWD issues goal of LWUA takeover

LWUA OFFICIALS. Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) chairman Ronnie Ong (left) and administrator Jose Moises Salonga speak in a press conference at the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) building on Thursday, March 21, 2024 after MCWD chairman Jose Daluz III resisted LWUA’s March 15 takeover of MCWD’s board. /
LWUA OFFICIALS. Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) chairman Ronnie Ong (left) and administrator Jose Moises Salonga speak in a press conference at the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) building on Thursday, March 21, 2024 after MCWD chairman Jose Daluz III resisted LWUA’s March 15 takeover of MCWD’s board. / Photo by Arkeen Larisma

THE Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) has insisted on its power to implement a partial intervention in the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) for a period of six months, saying this is for the purpose of investigating issues surrounding the water district.

In a press conference at the MCWD building Thursday, March 21, 2024, LWUA Chairman Ronnie Ong said the LWUA Board of Trustees issued Resolution No. 35, s. 2023 to “set aside” MCWD’s five-member board of directors led by chairman Jose Daluz III, so that the LWUA can check on a number of issues in MCWD.

The investigation is for these reasons: MCWD has high non-revenue water, allegedly failed to comply with procurement laws, and sought a questionable 70 percent water rate hike.


Ong was accompanied in the press conference by LWUA Administrator Jose Moises Salonga and the three LWUA officers that Salonga had last Friday designated as members of MCWD’s interim board of directors to take over MCWD’s board.

“Ang OA (overacting) naman na ayaw magpa-investigate,” Salonga said, after his letter informing Daluz and MCWD General Manager Edgar Donoso of LWUA’s March 15 takeover of MCWD’s board was basically ignored by the duo, who questioned LWUA’s authority to undertake the takeover.

(They are overacting when they refuse to be investigated.)

Are they taking over?

Ong clarified that they are not taking over the water district but only “setting aside” the current board in order for them to investigate and check all the documents of MCWD. The current board refers to Daluz, Miguelito Pato and Jodelyn May Seno, appointees of the late mayor Edgardo Labella; and Danilo Ortiz and Earl Bonachita, appointees of Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama.

Salonga said it is just a six-month partial intervention, with “setting aside” meaning “suspension.”

“Nobody is being replaced. They are being set aside for an interim board to take its place for six months,” Salonga said.

Salonga said it seems the MCWD board is questioning the powers of LWUA to investigate when these powers are found in Presidential Decree 198.

“It seems they want us to ask permission first before taking regulatory action. It seems unusual,” Salonga said.

Salonga said LWUA can intervene even without court processes, and that questioning the legality of their intervention is frustrating the will of the law, which impedes their ability to do their job.

Salonga said LWUA hopes they will come to an agreement to end the matter peacefully and lawfully.

On receiving LWUA’s notice of takeover Friday, Daluz had said he would abide by LWUA’s order, only for him and fellow board members Pato and Seno to say Wednesday that they would continue to function as MCWD’s board pending the resolution on the legality of LWUA’s takeover.

On Monday, Donoso had said he would continue to recognize the Daluz-led board while he awaited the opinion of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) on Salonga’s appointment of the interim board composed of Maria Rosan D. Perez, Noel A. Samonte and Anabelle C. Gravador.

Closed-door meeting

Insisting on the “status quo,” Daluz III said LWUA and MCWD had agreed during their closed-door meeting Thursday to wait for the opinion of the OGCC.

However, Salonga questioned the legality of the action of MCWD general manager Donoso to declare a status quo.

“The pronouncement that the GM can pronounce a status quo order, I cannot find any legal basis... That is for the court to decide,” Salonga said. “They do not have the standing to proclaim a status quo order.”

What will happen after six months?

Salonga said they will wait for the findings, as he assured that nobody is guilty yet.

Ong said the problem is the MCWD’s current board is not open to any investigation, when in a government agency everything should be transparent.

Ong said they are just doing their job and they want to check some procurements, the Commission on Audit’s findings on MCWD, as well as the non-revenue water (NRW).

Ong said from 2019, there was at least a 23 percent loss, equivalent to 14 million gallons of water per day, due to NRW. In 2022, this reached 32 percent, equivalent to 21 million gallons of water per day. This year, they’ve been told that it has already reached 36 percent.

Salonga said there has been about a P120 million loss in revenue every year because of non-revenue water.

Vested interests?

In a separate press conference held before LWUA’s, Daluz said they are not fighting the LWUA as an institution, but only its chairman of the board, Ronnie Ong.

“This is all about Ronnie Ong. We will not involve the entire LWUA or the institution because there are some people in LWUA that are not agreeing to this action of Ronnie Ong. I just want to be clear: We are not fighting the LWUA institution, the people in LWUA. It is only Ronnie Ong, the chairman, who has interest to take over the MCWD,” Daluz said.

Sought for his reaction, Ong assured that there is no vested interest in LWUA’s action.

Ong said he has no personal interest in MCWD, not even business interest, emphasizing that he is not the one who is using the MCWD building for political reasons.

Ong was referring to the event of the Kilusang Bagong Pilipinas Cebu City Chapter held at the MCWD Social Hall last March 16.

In a press conference at the PDG Law Office in the North Reclamation Area last Wednesday, Daluz explained that the group was affiliated with the Office of the Vice President, so he could not refuse their request.

Daluz said it is their corporate responsibility to cater to the requests of other government agencies, and that as MCWD chairman he was also invited to attend the event.

He said the event was approved two weeks before the March 15 notice of intervention, emphasizing that they could not just cancel the event due to the turn of events.

Political pressure

Salonga denied that there was political pressure behind LWUA’s action, despite the issue stemming from the conflict between Mayor Rama and Daluz.

Salonga said they are trying to be apolitical in their intervention.

If the MCWD board will not abide by LWUA’s partial intervention, Salonga said they will resort to the due process of law. He did not specify what this meant.

However, Daluz said Wednesday that he believed that the Rama administration had a hand in the matter.

“If we say that Mike Rama had a hand in this, I’ve been hearing that for a long time. That has already happened. That’s already been proven that he has already a hand in this,” Daluz said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

Daluz also said Cebu City Police Office Director Ireneo Dalogdog would not have acted without the directive of the mayor. On Wednesday, there were at least 10 police personnel deployed outside the MCWD building.

Ong and Salonga said they requested police assistance to ensure the safety of the interim board.

Asked if they sought police assistance because the interim board had already been harassed, Salonga said no.

When Ong and Salonga, along with LWUA’s interim board of directors, arrived at the MCWD building on Thursday, they were welcomed by Daluz, Donoso and MCWD secretary Seno.

Meeting the governor

After the press conference, the LWUA and MCWD officials went to the Provincial Capitol and met with Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia.

MCWD vice chairman Pato was present at the meeting with the governor but not at the press conference at MCWD.

According to a video sent by MCWD spokesperson Minerva Gerodias, Garcia said it is good to come together to talk and come up with a win-win solution for the benefit of the Cebuanos.

Ong said LWUA and MCWD had agreed to wait for the opinion of the OGCC, which serves as the corporate counsel for both entities.

While awaiting the opinion, Ong said, MCWD had agreed to provide LWUA with the necessary documents.

Last November, Garcia had recognized the LWUA’s position acknowledging Daluz, Pato and Seno as board members in the trio’s dispute with Mayor Rama, who had replaced them last Oct. 31 with Melquiades Feliciano, Aristotle Batuhan and Nelson Yuvallos.

Last June, Daluz said Rama had been trying to remove him as chairman of the MCWD board since his board refused the mayor’s move to “privatize” MCWD, and after Daluz suggested that younger and fresh names of their party coalition run in the 2025 elections.

Rama, a senior citizen and a seasoned politician, is seeking reelection in 2025.


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