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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

LWUA’s Waterloo

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But Daluz has refused to budge and claims Rama had no authority to remove him

Water is life, we’re reminded every so often, and we’ll never know its real worth until the well runs dry.

That must have been the reason why the Marcos Jr. administration has time and again expressed concern over the water situation, especially now that we face the dire prospect of a serious water crisis with the El Niño weather phenomenon in the horizon.

The mandate of the Local Water Utilities Authority is to promote and oversee the development of water supply systems in cities and municipalities outside of Metropolitan Manila.

It was created in 1973. But it appears the agency faces challenges in implementing its mandate.

We gathered LWUA Administrator Vicente Homer Revil does not concur with the Board of Trustees on certain issues.

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We’ve been informed as well that many if not all of Revil’s proposals for foreign-funded projects that were supposedly designed to address the water problems in the countryside have been turned down by the National Economic Development Authority.

The rift between the LWUA Administrator and the Board of Trustees, we’re told, came to a head when he refused to support a board resolution allowing the agency to exercise its regulatory powers by intervening in the case of Metropolitan Cebu Water District Chairman Jose Daluz III.

Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama has ordered the removal of Daluz as head of MCWD, blaming him for Cebu’s perennial water shortages and exorbitant water rates.

But Daluz has refused to budge and claims Rama had no authority to remove him.

The squabble between Rama and Daluz, residents fear, is about to bring Cebu City on the brink of a water crisis.

According to the WCWD, Cebu City alone has a supply deficit of 250 million liters per day. The situation is expected to worsen with the start of the El Niño phenomenon.

The tense situation prompted the LWUA Board of Trustees to take action and in their 999th BOT meeting on September 28, they passed Board Resolution 35 where they said LWUA should partially intervene in MCWD operations for six months.

All BOT members except Revil voted in favor of Board Resolution 35.

Under its charter, the LWUA is managed by an Administrator who serves under the guidance of a five-man Board of Trustees headed by the Chairman. The Administrator sits as an ex-officio member.

Board Resolution 35 had the effect of suspending Daluz and the entire MCWD Board for six months and allowing LWUA-BOT to name temporary replacements.

This would allow MCWD stakeholders including the Cebu City government to name permanent replacements for Daluz and the members of the Board within six months.

Outvoted, Revil had to abide by the board’s majority decision.

However, as Board Resolution 35 was being routed for the signature of the Board of Trustees, LWUA Board Secretary Danilo Beleno Jr. decided to pull it out and stop the process.

This apparently irked LWUA Chairman Ronnie Ong who immediately summoned Beleno and excoriated him for withdrawing the resolution without securing his approval.

This raised the question of why a mere Board Secretary would take it upon himself to stop the implementation of a BOT resolution previously agreed on during a formal board meeting.

In a four-page Show Cause Order dated October 19, 2023, Ong demanded from Beleno and Board Secretary Stephanie Claire Rojas a written explanation on why “they should not be subject to disciplinary measures and administrative penalties” for pulling out Resolution 35 without clearing it first with him.

“Your act of pulling out Board Resolution 35 without my knowledge, consent, or approval (reeks of) bad faith, insubordination, and gross misconduct. The Board Resolution was passed through a valid meeting of the members of the LWUA BOT, and approved by a majority vote of the same,” the order stated.

“(In truth), you did (not) even have a semblance of authority to pull out Board Resolution 35. In fact, I only found out through other means that Board Resolution 35 was pulled out from DPWH, and this was kept secret by your office,” the order said.

The order added: “It is obvious that the surreptitious manner of pulling out such Board Resolution, and not informing me of such before it was pulled out, was to undermine the authority of the Office of the Chairman, and the sitting Board of Trustees of this agency.

“These grave offenses are not only disrespectful to the members of LWUA BOT, but go directly against the values being upheld by the LWUA itself.”

In Ong’s Show Cause Order, it was made clear to Beleno and Rojas that they had overstepped the authority of their Chairman who is their boss just to stop the execution of Resolution 35.

The question raised by those familiar with the issue is whether Beleno and Rojas acted on their own in pulling out the BOT resolution.

Or, perhaps, did someone else order them to do so with the promise of protection of their tenure as Board Secretaries?

The Show Cause Order, it would appear, was approved by all members of the BOT except for Revil.


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