Seares: Still not clear or sure as to who’s in control at MCWD: LWUA interim board or Daluz-led group. New appointees may tell whose hands are moving things at the water district.

(from left to right) MCWD interim board, Atty. Joselito Thomas P.  Baena
(from left to right) MCWD interim board, Atty. Joselito Thomas P. Baena (Photo courtesy of CCNI)

New managers or same-same at MCWD

April 15, 2024: Showdown in the running dispute over Metro Cebu Water District.

Cebu City officials allegedly forced their way into MCWD offices to allow entry to the interim board and a new general manager appointed by the Local Water Utilities Administration, who’d been barred by security guards.

The Cebu public watched a gripping drama, thinking that after the alleged “City Hall invasion,” LWUA’s takeover of MCWD was a done deal, “an accomplished fact.” More so after a new GM, a colleague of the city mayor’s son, was later appointed to replace the one who quit and fled.

However, on Tuesday morning, April 23, MCWD officially announced a “status quo” and “business as usual” MCWD. Its second paragraph was ominously familiar: “All managers and employees will strictly adhere to directives from the legitimate Daluz-led board and GM Donoso.”

How can MCWD function “business as usual” and how can MCWD expect its personnel to work under a status quo? Since March 15, 2024 (date of the takeover per LWUA board of trustees resolution), the public has seen two boards of directors (the LWUA-designated interim board and the Daluz-led board) and three GMs: suspended GM Edgar Donoso, LWUA-named John Dx Lapid, who later quit and was replaced with the third, Joselito Thomas Baena.

The latest serial announcements of a “status quo” have come from Daluz et al, the same group that defended or bedeviled public interest, depending on how one views the MCWD squabble.

LWUA can’t regulate MCWD if its managers resist

The people appointed by LWUA to effect a takeover of MCWD must have constructive and physical control of the local water district’s facilities. LWUA cannot do that when MCWD key officials refuse to obey its directives and refuse LWUA reps access to premises, facilities, and records.

Hands in appointment of acting general manager

MCWD’s Joselito Thomas P. Baena replaces Donoso who “remains preventively suspended,” according to LWUA.

Baena hails from Surigao, the grandson of journalist-school owner Joselito S. Paloma, who also publishes two community newspapers. Baena used to work with ACCRA Law and is now with RBTA Law, whose first letter stands for Rama, specifically Mikel Francisco Rama who, if no tiny bell rings yet, is the son of Cebu City Mayor Michael “Mike” Rama. Atty. Mikel also used to be with ACCRA.

… and of additional 2 interim board members

The March 15 LWUA takeover order named only three members of MCWD’s interim board: Maria Rosan Perez, Engineer Noel Samonte and Engineer Annabele Gravador. On April 15, LWUA added two directors to the interim board, both Cebuanos: Rey Asterio Tambis and Manolette Fel Dinsay.

Tambis and Ronnie Ong, LWUA chairman, were the first and second nominees of the Ako’y Pilipino Party list in the 2022 elections. That’s a strong link there. Tambis is reportedly a beach resort owner in south Cebu and had worked with the Bureau of Internal Revenue, was in 2008 national president of the Association of Chief Revenue Officers of the Philippines (Acrophil).

Dinsay was identified in 2019 story stories as “a member of returning governor Gwen Garcia’s transition team” and “a trusted advisor to the governor.” Among 30 unnamed persons recommended for five seats in the MCWD board -- after then-mayor Edgardo Labella dismissed the water district’s directors on October 15, 2019 -- Dinsay’s name was among the four or five mentioned as the most probable appointees.

In February 2020, three of the five directors appointed by Labella took their oath: Daluz, chairman; Frank Malilong, vice chairman; and Miguelito Pato, secretary. A fourth member, Jodelyn May Seno, was appointed by Labella in May 2020; Malilong served until December 2022.

A Cemla lawyer suggested looking at the new MCWD appointees to see whose hands are now moving at the local water district.

They benefited from then-mayor Labella’s moves

The current holdouts at MCWD are three Labella appointees -- DPS or Daluz Pato Seno -- who benefited from the acts of then-Mayor Labella but now condemn them as illegal when Mayor Rama committed them. The same group, says a Rama supporter, that had stoutly said they’d wait for LWUA's decision as a regulator of MCWD when developments didn’t favor them but now vigorously resist LWUA moves that would hurt them.

So what’s the situation at MCWD, post-‘invasion’?

“Wa’y sure oy.” Can’t rely on MCWD's official statement or the LWUA claim. News reporters might ask the police -- whose presence at MCWD premises has been requested by the interim board -- as to which, LWUA/City Hall or MCWD/DaLuz camp, is physically and constructively in control of the water district.

Fight for 2025 elections has long started at MCWD

And will the problem of water supply in Metro Cebu ever be solved? That’s supposed to be the main thrust of LWUA’s takeover of the water district.

The system installed by Presidential Decree #198 was supposed to keep politics away from the local water district. It has not. The chief protagonists -- Daluz and Rama -- have long started the fight for the 2025 elections, at MCWD. Mayor Rama is, of course, running for reelection while former city councilor Daluz conceded in an interview that he has been acting as if he were already a candidate.


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