After Rama, MCWD also wants out of court case

·6 min read

THE Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) has asked the court to remove it as one of the defendants of an injunction case to reverse the decision of then Cebu City mayor Edgardo Labella to terminate three of the water district's board members in 2019.

MCWD filed a three-page manifestation before the Cebu City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 17 a few days after Mayor Michael Rama, through his lawyers, filed a similar manifestation to remove the city government as one of the defendants of the case.

But Amando Ligutan, counsel for former MCWD board members Augustus “Jun” Pe Jr., former city attorney Ralph Sevilla and lawyer Cecilia Adlawan, said that while MCWD is not a traditional defendant in the case, it cannot easily remove itself as a party to the case due to its role as an "unwilling co-plaintiff."

"It’s another plot twist to the MCWD boardroom drama. This time it is MCWD that wants to tap out of the case. But it cannot. It seems our opponents are capitulating one after the other. It is preposterous for the main agency involved in the case to get out of the case. It is at the heart of the controversy, and it wants out? How foolish could that be?" Ligutan said in a statement sent to reporters on Friday, July 29, 2022.

Background

In November 2019, Sevilla, Pe and Adlawan filed a petition for temporary restraining order (TRO) and injunction against Labella and officials of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) after they and two other board members were terminated from their post the previous month over allegations that they failed to address the water crisis at that time.

Aside from Labella, named as respondents in the petition were then acting LWUA Administrator Jeci Lapus and LWUA employees Roberto San Andres, Eileen dela Vega and Cristina Marcelina, who were appointed as MCWD's interim board members.

LWUA had stepped in after Labella fired MCWD's board members. Lapus, as interim MCWD board chairman, then appointed San Andres, Dela Vega and Marcelina as interim board members.

The complainants argued that Labella’s act of terminating them had been done “without any valid cause and without due process,” as well as “with evident bad faith” as the three complainants were appointees of Labella’s political opponent, former Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña.

On Feb. 17, 2020, former South Road Properties manager Jose Daluz III, lawyer and SunStar Cebu columnist Francisco Malilong Jr. and engineer Miguelito Pato started their duties as the new chairman, vice chairman and secretary of MCWD, respectively, replacing the interim BOD that LWUA had formed. Lawyer Manolette Dinsay and human resource practitioner Jodelyn May Seno later completed the new board.

On March 16, 2020, the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 7 issued a 20-day TRO in favor of the three MCWD board members, which allowed them to resume their posts.

Manifestation

In its three-page manifestation filed on July 22, 2022, MCWD, through its legal department, said it is pulling out of the case after the court sought its manifestation in view of the deaths of Labella and Lapus last year. Labella died on November 19, 2021 while Lapus died on July 11 of the same year.

On February 11, 2021, MCWD had pleaded to RTC Branch 7, where the case was originally lodged, to dismiss the case against the water district.

MCWD, through affirmative defense, argued that Pe, Sevilla and Adlawan failed to state a cause of action against them.

On March 17, 2021, MCWD filed another motion with the RTC Branch 7 to resolve their affirmative defenses and their plea to drop them as one of the case's defendants.

Four days later, RTC Branch 7 informed MCWD that the case had been re-raffled to another court, particularly RTC Branch 17.

"At present, there has been no court resolution on Defendant MCWD's motion dated March 17, 2021," MCWD said.

Keep MCWD in case

But the three former MCWD board members, through Ligutan, urged RTC Branch 17 to dismiss MCWD's manifestation.

In an eight-page reply, Ligutan argued that MCWD's manifestation should be dismissed as the motion they filed was considered "ultra vires" or beyond their scope of power as it was done without authority by the three ex-board members, who had been reinstated to their post after a temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued by the court in favor of them.

He said the March 17 motion filed by MCWD was raised to the court two days after the latter issued a TRO in favor of the three former board members.

Ligutan argued that the March 17 motion filed by MCWD was made without authority from the three board members who had been reinstated through the court's intervention.

"Here, plaintiffs (Pe, Sevilla and Adlawan) did not authorize the signatories of the instant motion to file the same on behalf of defendant MCWD. As such, the instant motion is filed ultra vires as it is without the authority of plaintiffs," Ligutan added.

Ligutan also argued that while MCWD is not a defendant in the case, it cannot remove itself as a party to the case due to its role as an "unwilling co-plaintiff" according to the Rules of Court.

According to Section 10 of the Rules of Court, an "unwilling co-plaintiff" is a person or organization that became a defendant in the case if "the consent of any party who should be joined as plaintiff cannot be obtained."

Ligutan added that MCWD cannot be removed from the case as it is considered an "indispensable party" that is necessary for the case to be finally concluded.

"Lest MCWD forget, the central issue of this case is whether or not its board of directors, herein plaintiffs (Pe, Sevilla and Adlawan), were legally removed by defendant Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella. MCWD is one of the original plaintiffs who filed this present complaint. It is now impleaded as an unwilling co-plaintiff," Ligutan said.

"One could just imagine a situation where MCWD is in fact dropped as a party to the case, and the Honorable Court may eventually decide to permanently reinstate plaintiffs as members of the MCWD board of directors. By that time, it would be very convenient for MCWD to ignore the order by claiming it is not a party to the case," he added.

Cebu City Government

Earlier this month, City Attorney Eugene Orbita and lawyer Ferdinand Cañete filed a manifestation informing RTC Branch 17 in Cebu City that Mayor Rama “decides not to adopt or continue and is not adopting or continuing the action of his predecessor, defendant Edgardo C. Labella.”

This, after the Court asked whether Rama would maintain the act of defendant Labella and substitute the latter in the case.

Explaining his decision, Rama told SunStar Cebu last week that he did not want his name or even the city government to be part of the case as he had not been in favor of Labella’s act of terminating the board directors.

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