Nalzaro: On MCWD's TRO, who will vacate?

Bobby Nalzaro
·4 min read

I am not a lawyer but like lawyers, I am puzzled by the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) by a court reinstating three sacked directors of the board of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD). Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 7 Judge James Stewart Ramon Himalaloan ruled in favor of the petitioners, lawyers Ralph Sevilla and Cecile Adlawan and former Cebu City councilor Agustus Pe Jr., in the case they filed against Mayor Edgardo Labella, the appointing authority, and acting administrator Jeci Lapuz of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA). The court ordered that Sevilla, Adlawan and Pe be restored to their positions as directors of the MCWD pending further hearings of their petition.

Consider this: The TRO was issued more than a year after the petition was filed. In my little understanding, a TRO is usually issued by the court to preserve the status quo or the last, actual, peaceful and uncontested state of things and prevent serious and irreparable injury to the applicant before a hearing or preliminary injunction can be had.

MCWD board chairman Jose Daluz III said the issuance of the TRO was “wrong,” considering the nature of the TRO is an urgent matter. You see, Daluz is a lawyer and the order confused him. How much more for a non-lawyer. “This TRO, for me, we’re already in position. We’ve worked for the board, so there was no urgency on the matter,” Daluz was quoted as saying, adding that he will not acknowledge the re-assumption of the three personalities.

I think this “unclear decision” will be clarified in further hearings for a permanent injunction. But City Hall lawyers who represent Mayor Labella and the water utility have filed a motion for inhibition against Himalaloan.

Also, who are the MCWD directors who should vacate as the petitioners have been ordered reinstated? The board is composed of five members including its chairman and each of them represents a particular sector. The court did not name the board members who will vacate as they were not impleaded in the petition. Can the board members be bound by the TRO without violating their rights of due process?

If you recall, only three of the five dismissed board members went to court: Sevilla, who represented the civic sector, Adlawan (professional) and Jun Pe (business). Former board chairman Joel Mari Yu and former board member Procopio “Coping” Fernandez did not join the petition. In other words, there are two seats that are not being contested. Now, who will vacate and who will not?

Yu represented the education sector, while Fernandez represented the women sector, even though Coping is a man. The present board members are Daluz as chairman. He represents the professional sector. SunStar columnist/broadcaster and lawyer Frank Malilong originally represented the professional sector, but a source told this columnist that a ranking City Hall official (not the mayor) later informed Malilong that he would be representing the education sector instead. So, there was an interchange between the professional and education representation.

Was Daluz given the preference over Malilong because the professional sector representation will expire in 2024 and the former being the chairman will serve for a longer period? Just asking. The other board members are lawyer Manolete Dinsay (civic), Michael Pato (business) and May Seno, who replaced former Mayor Alvin Garcia, who was supposed to represent the women sector. Garcia’s appointment was disapproved by the LWUA.

Daluz and Pato’s term will expire in December 2024, Dinsay and Malilong’s in December 2022. Seno’s term expired last year, but she was re-appointed to another six-year term by Mayor Labella.

Under Presidential Decree 198 signed by then President Ferdinand Marcos, MCWD is a government-owned and -controlled corporation, but the appointment of its board of directors, the policy-making body, is highly politicized. The mayor of Cebu City, whose territorial jurisdiction has the most number of consumers, is the appointing authority.

Frequent changing of its policymakers depending on the whims and caprices of the appointing authority is very detrimental to the water utility’s direction in improving its services and in serving the water consuming public. Until now, the basic needs of many people to have access to a potable water supply remains a dream. The problem of fellow Superbalita columnist lawyer Eddie Barrita that he has to wake up in the middle of the night to wait for running water so he can store it in drums and gallons has not yet been adequately addressed. Barrita said that in their neighborhood in Barangay Zapatera, the supply of beer far outnumbers the supply of water from the MCWD. Do we need to revive the call for the privatization of the MCWD like the Metropolitan Waterworks Sewerage System in Metro Manila?