MCWD board files case vs. Labella, LWUA officials

Jerra Mae Librea

THREE of the four remaining members of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) Board of Directors have filed a petition for a temporary restraining order and injunction against Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella and officials of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) before the Regional Trial Court in Cebu City on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.

This after Labella issued notices of termination on Oct. 15 against MCWD’s five board members, and the LWUA installed an interim board to replace them.

The services of the MCWD board of directors (BOD) composed of chairman Joel Mari Yu, vice chairman Ralph Sevilla, secretary Cecilia Adlawan, and members Procopio Fernandez and Augustus Pe Jr. were terminated following widespread dissatisfaction of the water utility’s consumers over their services for the past few months.

Labella said he was ready to answer any allegations filed against him by the MCWD board, adding that it was their right to file a case.

“Filing a case is their privilege. It is their right. Filing a case is one thing. Proving it is another,” said Labella.

The MCWD BOD, in their official statement, questioned Labella’s order, emphasizing that the termination was done “without both substantive and procedural due process.”

In the complaint filed by the Board signed by the petitioners Pe, Sevilla and Adlawan, they asked the Court to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and in the alternative a Writ of Preliminary Prohibitory and/or Mandatory Injunction to prevent the implementation of the termination order, the operational takeover by the LWUA interim board, and stop the “harassing, intimidating, and using (of) force in abuse of their authority in their quest to implement/enforce or in their continuing effort to implement and execute the herein mentioned illegal orders.”

They also asked the court to order the respondents and other concerned officials to observe the status quo ante and let the MCWD BOD continue their functions and prevent LWUA and their agents from taking over the operations of the current MCWD Board and other departments and offices under it.

Listed as plaintiffs are the MCWD BOD namely Pe, Sevilla and Adlawan, in their official and personal capacities, and the MCWD represented by its BOD who are also the plaintiffs.

Days after Labella issued the termination order, Yu had stepped down as chairman on Oct. 21, effective immediately. Eugenio Singson Jr. also resigned as general manager, effective last Nov. 1.

Listed as respondents were Labella, the LWUA, Acting LWUA Administrator Jeci Lapus, and LWUA employees designated as MCWD’s interim BOD: Roberto San Andres, chairman; and Eileen dela Vega and Cristina Marcelina, members.

A week after Labella fired the MCWD BOD, LWUA, on Oct. 21, had designated an interim board at the MCWD, “following the serious institutional crisis” at the water district.

No cause, due process

In the complaint, the petitioners said Mayor Labella’s act of terminating them had been done “without any valid cause and without due process,” and was “illegal, unfair,” and done “with evident bad faith” as the three petitioners and chairman Yu were appointees of former Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, whom Labella had defeated in the May elections.

They said consumer dissatisfaction over the MCWD’s services was not a legal basis for their termination, nor could it supplant due process, which involves clearly stating their offenses through formal charges and giving them the opportunity to explain themselves.

According to the board, Section 8 of Presidential Decree (PD) 198 or the Provincial Water Utilities Act of 1973, which was cited by LWUA as basis for the takeover, also only mentions one ground for a takeover—financial indebtedness to LWUA.

PD 198, as amended by PD 768, states: “Provided, however, that if the district has availed (itself) of the financial assistance of the Administration, the Administration may appoint any of its personnel to sit in the board of directors with all rights and privileges appertaining to a regular member, for such period as the indebtedness remains unpaid, in which case the board shall be composed of six members.”

The MCWD board said the water utility firm is not in a period of indebtedness to LWUA.

Also included in the petition is to make permanent the writ of preliminary prohibitory and/or mandatory injunction against the respondents after the conclusion of the trial on the merits of the case and to have the respondents pay the MCWD BOD plaintiffs P1 million each as moral damages.

In a statement, the MCWD BOD said they had to file the case to ensure “the laws are respected.”

Labella said he would file his answer once he was directed to do so “at the proper time and at the proper forum.”

“Once I am directed to file my answer, my counter-affidavit, may it be a criminal complaint, an administrative complaint, I will file my answer. If it’s a civil case, I will file my answer. I will prepare the necessary controverting evidence as part of the due process,” said Labella.

City Attorney Rey Gealon said they were ready even before the complainants filed a case against the mayor.

“The law is on our side. We have nothing to fear,” said Gealon.

Labella was prompted to issue the dismissal order because of the dissatisfaction expressed by seven local government units (LGUs).

Earlier, seven of eight LGUs within MCWD’s franchise area had called out MCWD for its poor and unreliable service, citing the water supply shortage that continues to affect their constituents.

The towns of Consolacion, Cordova and Liloan and the cities of Talisay, Cebu, Lapu-Lapu and Mandaue passed resolutions expressing their dissatisfaction with MCWD’s service.

The Provincial Board passed a similar resolution on Sept. 23, and asked the Office of the Ombudsman to explore the possibility of filing appropriate charges against the responsible and accountable MCWD officials.