Politics and controversy in the MCWD

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

The controversy in the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) reminds me of the time back when I was still teaching full-time at the university. Back then, full-time faculty members would get assigned to various college committees. I had observed that committees handling smaller resources or no budget at all tended to be harmonious and collegial, while those overseeing larger budgets or resources were usually affected with some form of politics and infighting.

There’s a metaphor that goes something like "Ants go where the sugar is." People (like ants) are naturally drawn to where the benefits or rewards (the sweetness) are most abundant. In that sense, the rub becomes apparent in what lawyer Amando Virgil Ligutan said, as quoted by The FREEMAN on November 9: “Why these individuals are so held up in MCWD,...as if they are fighting for their lives. It is only a position. Unsa ang naa sa MCWD nga lisod man sila mohawa ana dira?”

Ligutan is the lawyer representing Augustus Pe Jr., Atty. Ralph Sevilla, and Atty. Cecilia Adlawan, who were unceremoniously removed from the MCWD board in 2019 by the late Cebu City mayor Edgardo Labella. The flimsy pretext given for their removal was that “consumers of MCWD have been greatly dissatisfied with its present service (PNA, October 16, 2019).”

In the MCWD controversy, various parties are denying allegations of having personal or political interests at stake, and they seek to position themselves as working in the interest of Cebuanos. However, the skepticism expressed by Ligutan regarding the motives of officials such as Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and Atty. Jose Daluz III, the MCWD chairman whom Rama removed, is well-placed. Many people, for example, find Daluz's stance hypocritical, considering how he obtained his position.

Even as we get entangled in the issues of control over water districts and the authority to remove board members --with the regional trial court claiming this power is vested in the mayor, while the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) argues the mayor has no such authority-- it’s time we should also review the law and why it was established in the first place.

Presidential Decree 198 or the Provincial Water Utilities Act of 1972 and its subsequent amendatory laws were enacted to address the critical need for an effective and efficient local utility system in urban and provincial areas of the country. It recognizes that a well-functioning system of domestic water utilities is essential for the orderly and balanced growth of these areas.

Water sourcing and distribution are primarily local concerns, but the law acknowledges that LGUs lack the capital and technical expertise to provide and maintain a well-functioning system of domestic water utilities that can keep pace with population growth. Thus, PD 198 specifically advocates for the formation of independent, locally controlled public water districts as the most feasible and preferred institutional structure to achieve this goal. It emphasizes the importance of these districts being locally managed, yet supported at the national level in terms of technical advisory services, funding, and regulatory oversight.

The enactment of this law evidently did not anticipate a controversy of this nature currently entangling MCWD. Control over water sources and distribution has now become a high-stakes political and economic game. This situation highlights the need for our lawmakers to revisit and review the laws governing water districts, as well as the overall sourcing and distribution of potable water in the country. The ongoing turmoil at MCWD exposes a fundamental weakness in our policy framework.

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