Seares: Core issue in MCWD dispute: Was firing 'for cause,' as in due process? For now, it's just fireworks over judge and his order.

Pachico A. Seares
·4 min read

RUN Sara or Let's Go.

Signs on tarpaulin: "Run Sara Run" and "Let's Go Duterte," mostly placed side by side. Contradictory? Clash of interests. Maybe not. Sara Duterte-Carpio or Bong Go for president with the same vice president: Digong Duterte.

Either the daughter or the "perpetual gofer," that fits into the theory of a successor who (a) could "continue" President Rodrigo Duterte's programs and (b) someone who could protect him from the ordeal past presidents such as Erap Estrada, Noynoy Aquino and Gloria Arroyo went through.

Two trial balloons: with Inday Sara or with Dodong Bong.

One could translate into solid strategy by the first week this October, deadline for filing COCs of national candidates.

Metaphor about changing oil

"Changing oil" is an old joke about having sex, often adulterous.

It is now used by some people as metaphor on changing the administration. Which may not be apt. Changing leadership cannot be compared to the superficial tune-up of changing oil. It is more like changing drivers -- or even the vehicle.

MCWD 1: Flawed lawsuit?

Cebu RTC Judge James Steward Himalaloan ordered that (a) three dismissed directors of Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) -- Ralph Sevilla, Augustus "Jun" Pe and Cecilia Adlawan -- be reinstated and (b) the present MCWD board to "cease and desist" in their functions and duties.

The March 15, 2021 TRO by itself has created questions about who will enforce it and whether it was flawed for not "impleading" the directors whose right to hold office is assailed.

First of all, is it the Cebu City mayor who must enforce the TRO? The mayor has the right to appoint new directors but cannot dismiss them except for cause and with approval of the Local Water Utilities Administration. In a letter, the LWUA chief had reminded the mayor about his rights but the mayor saw it as a "no-objection" and "blessing" of a letter. Apparently, the MCWD board is accountable to LWUA which supposedly oversees its operations. Maybe the mayor was included in the lawsuit as appointing authority.

Secondly, how does the order operate when the three incumbent directors directly affected by the lawsuit -- who are now ordered to step down to give way to their three sacked counterparts - are not included in the court case? The sitting directors announced they wouldn't budge from the board. The City Legal Office representing the mayor asked that the judge reconsider his order and inhibit himself from the litigation.

Even if the three affected directors would obey the judge's order and get out of the way during the 20-day period, would that mean the reinstated directors could conduct business but minus the participation of the two other Labella-appointed directors whose seats were not contested?

In his October 15, 2020 order, the mayor threw out the entire board but chairman Joel Mari Yu and Procopio Fernandez representing women didn't join the lawsuit filed by the Sevilla-Pe-Adlawan trio. At the same time, the court also ordered the present MCWD board to cease and desist.

Does that mean the board should stop functioning for 20 days or it would just disable the two directors whom Labella appointed? Would that be the "status quo ante" (the previously existing state of affairs) instructed by the TRO?

MCWD 2: Main issue coming

What they're quarreling about now -- the court order not allegedly affecting the three present directors because they were not included in the lawsuit and the city mayor wanting the judge replaced -- are side issues.

The core issue is still whether the MCWD Five was lawfully removed. The Water Utilities Act is specific about the dismissal: it must be "for cause."

The mayor, in his October 15, 2019 letter firing the entire board, cited "widespread dissatisfaction" over MCWD's services, mentioning the local governments whose Sanggunians were loudly and expressly complaining against MCWD service.

But how is the "for cause" dismissal done? Due process with complaint, evidence and confrontation, with the chance to answer the charges.

None of that was done, plaintiffs allege. Instead, legislatures merely "consulted" MCWD officials on how to improve water supply. Besides, the MCWD board whose function is limited to policy-making, cannot be solely responsible for the supply fiasco, given other phases of water production and distribution. MCWD also depends on managers that enforce policies and LGUs and LWUA that provide direction and support.

The court litigation might result in clearer laws on water supply and specific provisions on accountability.

'Magbalot ka na!'

A new variation on President Duterte's warning to corrupt government officials is about packing up and leaving. Like telling an incorrigible son to get out of the father's sight.

One such official was overheard whispering, "Di ba co-terminus ang corruption?" Meaning, one leaves once the boss leaves.