Cebu News

OIC Gm barred entry: Standoff at MCWD

Caecent No-ot Magsumbol, Iris Hazel Mascardo - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - It was a tension-filled day yesterday at the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) building after Cebu City Government officials entered the premises to assist the newly-appointed officer-in-charge (OIC) who was barred entry by the existing board members.

Lawyer John DX Lapid was supposed to report on his first Monday as OIC General Manager of MCWD following his appointment last April 12, 2024 by the Interim Board of Directors from the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) but was taken aback after security barred him from entering the premises.

This came after the existing board led by MCWD Chairman Joey Daluz III, alongside board members Jodelyn May Seno, and Miguelito Pato issued a resolution reaffirming their legal authority as Board of Directors (BOD) and hereby directed General Manager Edgar Donoso to implement a lockdown to secure the premises of the MCWD.

Donoso then issued an inter-office memorandum dated April 15, 2024, prohibiting the entry of Lapid, as well as the Interim Board of Directors and its staff.

“The General Manager is hereby directed to implement a lockdown to secure the premises of the MCWD to ensure unhampered public service and protect the well-being and safety of its employees against any form of intimidation and harassment,” read the memorandum.

In an interview at around 10 a.m. Lapid, who refused to remove his vehicle that was blocking the entry point of the MCWD parking area, said he had been accused of betraying the MCWD board and has allegedly been in connivance with the LWUA interim board.

He has also been accused of usurping power, which motivated the order to stop him from entering the building.

“Gisugo raman pud ko. I have the board resolution coming from the interim board of MCWD coming from LWUA na gi appoint ko nila as OIC general manager,” said Lapid.

“Today I am supposed to do an action as an OIC GM, mao raman na akong tuyo,” he added.

According to him, as part of the LWUA resolution attached to his appointment, he needs to provide the interim board the documents that they are asking for as part of their ongoing investigation.

LWUA implemented a partial takeover of MCWD last March 15, 2024 to start an investigation on allegations hounding the MCWD operations.

“Wala koy gidapigan ani or unsa, ako man gung pagtuo ani is, LWUA is a regulator,” said Lapid.

Lapid, who was the head of Customer Care of MCWD prior to his appointment as OIC GM, admitted that he was pained as he was barred entry since he is still an employee of MCWD.

In a separate interview, Daluz encouraged Lapid to resign from his post to show “decency” saying that his acceptance to the OIC position is an “insubordination” to his bosses.

Daluz added he was hopeful that Lapid would instead support the status quo declaration of the management.

“Kay iya man ning mga bosses. Unya nikalit ra siya’g accept (OIC GM position). In fact many were being offered with that position but they did not accept because of decency,” said Daluz.

Lapid, however, refused to heed the call to resign.

“I won’t resign because I am a regular employee of MCWD,” he said, adding that he is “just standing for what is right.”

According to Lapid, he accepted the position of OIC GM since nobody accepted it. He also said that his ultimate goal is for LWUA to “stop attacking the MCWD”.

Further, Daluz said that Lapid’s prohibition to enter the MCWD building is a counter-resolution slapped in response to the resolution issued by the interim board to bar the entry of Daluz and GM Donoso.

“Nag memo sila nga di mi pasudlon, di pasudlon si GM and then now he is complaining na siya maoy di kasud,” said Daluz.

Donoso also said that they will be following the legal process on the actions enacted by Lapid, including the issuance of a show-cause order.

Just like Daluz, Donoso also encouraged Lapid to voluntarily resign from the post.

In line with this, the MCWD board has also released a resolution to look into the motivation of Lapid and to study legal actions they can take.

Daluz also remains firm that the LWUA’s intervention is “illegal” on the grounds that they can only intervene if there is a financial default, adding that MCWD does not have such.

This has also been stressed by Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia who has commented on the matter as she said this also affects residents of the Province who are experiencing a water supply problem.

In a press conference, Garcia along with several mayors stressed on the limits of the powers of LWUA.

“Essentially, it does recognize to take over or intervene but only in a single instant, and that is when the water district has defaulted. Walay lain, walay uban pang hinungdan, kay dili maayo ang pagpadagan sa operasyon, kay ang water recovery mao ra ni porsyentoha, nasayod ta. Pila ni ka dekada mao ni ang nahitabo or kay wala mi ganahi ninyo board of directors, di gyud na labot,” Garcia said.

The Cebu Provincial Board also approved en masse a resolution demanding LWUA not to meddle on MCWD.

The august body called on LWUA to “respect the status quo to prevent confusion and disruption of the water district’s operation.”

The League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP)-Cebu chapter has also pledged support for Daluz and Donoso through a manifesto.

“We stand firmly behind the current MCWD leadership. Chairman Jose Daluz III, Board Members Miguelito Pato and Jodelyn May Seno, and General Manager Edgard Donoso have the full support and confidence of our communities,” part of the manifesto reads.

Along with this, they demand that the LWUA accordingly heed the law and its own promises.

“They must immediately halt this unwarranted intrusion into MCWD operations. They must allow MCWD to fulfill its vital function to our communities without fear of unlawful interference. We will not allow the LWUA to jeopardize the well-being of the Cebuanos,” adds the statement.

The Mayors who signed the manifesto say, they comprise at least 70 percent of the communities served by MCWD, and condemn the unlawful actions of LWUA administrator Jose Moises Salonga.

"His unwarranted intrusion into MCWD's operations undermines the rule of law and jeopardizes vital water services for our constituents. Administrator Salonga's actions rest on a blatant misinterpretation of Presidential Decree No.198”.

The manifesto was signed by LMP-Cebu chapter president and Daanbantayan Mayor Sun Shimura alongside Mayors Jonas Cortes of Mandaue, Junard Chan of Lapu-Lapu City, Teresa Alegado of Consolacion, Cesar Suan

But LWUA, in a separate statement, has asked the Capitol and the mayors to “revisit their claims” as “vital information may have been left out and significant issues/facts distorted, which led to a misplaced and inaccurate conclusion regarding the suspension of the members of the MCWD Board.”

“Though Section 61 of P.D. 198 was cited and that it talks of default in terms of payment of the principal or interest on a loan, the same section likewise provides that default includes "other obligations to the Administration" as another ground independent from the financial provisions of the 2015 Financial Assistance Contract (FAC). Thus, for Mr. Daluz and company claim that default ONLY pertains to loans is merely their own interpretation that they are desperately peddling to the public,” part of the statement read.

LWUA also highlighted that the Commission on Audit (COA) for years 2020, 2021, and 2022, noted MCWD had a high NRW (Non-Revenue Water), which had no marked improvement from year 2020 to 2022.

“The consistent rise in its NRW in said period resulted in an annual loss on revenue by an average of at least P117.759 million,” the LWUA explained, adding that MCWD committed to a 15 percent NRW rate for 2023, which it failed to achieve.

“Given the above options available to LWUA to address the violations of MCWD, the suspension of the members of the MCWD board was a tame response on the part of LWUA and merely a preliminary step to investigate the violations of the FAC,” the statement added.

On the other hand, Daluz reiterated that during the partial intervention of LWUA, they had an agreement that they should await for the opinion of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) and abide by its findings whether the intervention is legal or not.

“Nigawas na ang OGCC opinion klaro kaayo nga OGCC opinion, there is no question on the intervention…but only if there’s a financial default to protect sa interest sa LWUA,” said Daluz.

“They (LWUA) did not honor our agreement dinhi ug atubangan sa gobernador,” he added.

LWUA slapped a six-month suspension order against Daluz, Seno and Pato while Donoso was issued with a 90-day suspension.

In the same press conference yesterday, Donoso claimed that he has yet to receive the suspension notice and he wasn’t given due time to react prior to the suspension.

At around 2 p.m. yesterday, Lapid gained entry to the MCWD building with the assistance of the Cebu City Government and the LWUA interim board.

In a live coverage posted by the Cebu City Information Office, it was shown that Lapid was able to finally enter the GM’s office assisted by Cebu City Administrator Lawyer Collin Rosell and Local Budget and Finance Chief Lawyer Jerone Castillo.

Seen also inside the premises was Cebu City Legal Officer Atty. Vincent Gimena.

In the same coverage, it was seen that Seno and Rosell were caught in an argument as to who has the authority.

Seno was caught telling Rosell to “get out” from the office in which the latter answered with “you are suspended”.

“GM (Lapid), you command,” Rosell then instructed Lapid.

Both camps were also caught arguing who is in “power” and both also argued that neither side was in-charge.

The standoff ended with a closed-door meeting between the two parties.(CEBU NEWS)

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