A LOCAL court has denied the petition of the three former directors of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) board to reinstate them because of their failure to offer substantial evidence that the termination of their services was illegal.
Cebu City Regional Trial Court Branch 14 Judge Merlo Bagano did not grant the writ of a preliminary injunction against Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella and the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) headed by Jeci Lapus.
The lawyer of plaintiffs Ralph Sevilla, Augustus Pe Jr. and lawyer Cecilia Adlawan—three of the directors of the MCWD board whose services were terminated—failed to convince Bagano that their rights need to be protected.
The plaintiffs in their petition asserted that only the MCWD board of directors can remove them and not Labella. They also condemned the lack of due process in their termination and claimed that all the requisites for an injunction are present in their case.
The Philippines Rules of Court defines preliminary injunction as an order granted at any stage of an action or proceeding before the judgment or final order, requiring a party to an administrative case or any third person to refrain from a particular act or acts.
The plaintiffs filed the petition to stop Labella and the LWUA from terminating their MCWD board services.
Baganan, in a decision dated June 30, 2021, said the plaintiffs’ right, in this case, is “doubtful and speculative at this stage of the proceedings.”
Labella in his counter argument to the petition asserted that the corporate power of MCWD to remove its members has no application in this case. He pointed out that the power to remove has not been expressly withheld by Presidential Decree 198 (Provincial Water Utilities Act of 1973) from the appointing authority.
The mayor said the power to remove by the appointing authority does not violate the operational autonomy of the water district.
Baganan said the application for injunctive relief is “so intertwined with the main relief prayed for in the complaint that, if granted, would amount to a prejudgement of the case without a full-blown hearing. This cannot be legally done.” The main relief that the plaintiffs were seeking the nullity of their termination.
Labella had terminated the services of the old members of the MCWD board of directors, majority of them appointed by former mayor Tomas Osmeña, citing their failure to provide solutions to address the water crisis in Cebu in 2019. Aside from Pe, Sevilla and Adlawan, the other old MCWD board members fired by Labella were Procopio Fernandez and Joel Mari Yu, who was the chairman at the time. Yu and Fernandez did not join the plaintiffs in seeking legal remedy against Labella and the LWUA.
The current board is composed of Labella’s allies—former Cebu City councilor Jose Daluz III, Francisco Malilong Jr., former Cebu City mayor Alvin Garcia, Manolette Dinsay and Miguelito Pato.
Lapus and the LWUA were included in the petition as his office approved Labella’s termination of the old board’s services.
Baganan mentions in his decision the plaintiffs’ failure to deal with their termination at the hands of Labella with the LWUA.
“The law grants LWUA the power to review both legal and illegal terminations. And in the case of an illegal termination, LWUA has the inherent authority to disapprove the same. This was not availed of by plaintiffs as indicated by their failure to submit a content on their termination when required to do so by LWUA,” Baganan said.
The presiding judge added that the court could not legally restrain the present MCWD board from performing their duties as such and momentarily relinquished their position to plaintiffs when they are not event parties in this case.
City Attorney Rey Gealon said the court’s subsequent denial for issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction goes to show that the Honorable Mayor’s actions are within the bounds of law.
“It is now clear and categorical that indeed there is no factual or legal basis for the issuance of the writ prayed for,” Gealon said. (MVG with PAC)