Cagayan de Oro City

Cagayan de Oro water firm workers picket for peace amid bosses’ squabble

Franck Dick Rosete

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Cagayan de Oro water firm workers picket for peace amid bosses’ squabble

PEACE. Cagayan de Oro Water District workers picket to appeal for peaceful working conditions amid a dispute between two sets of water district officials.

Menzie Montes, iFM Cagayan de Oro

The daily pickets begin days after a court dismissed a petition against the LWUA takeover of the Cagayan de Oro Water District

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Organized workers of the Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD) staged daily pickets starting on Thursday, June 27, appealing for a peaceful working environment amid disputes between two sets of officials, one of which was installed by the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA).

The First Labor Organization of the Cagayan de Oro Water District (FLOW) started the “prayer for justice” demonstrations outside the COWD on Thursday, June 27, and vowed to continue during lunch breaks until their superiors resolved the issue.

The COWD is now being run by an interim general manager and board put in place by the LWUA as a result of a water supply crisis that gripped Cagayan de Oro in May.

The LWUA’s move resulted from an unresolved debt dispute involving over P400 million between the COWD and its primary supplier of treated water, the Manny V. Pangilinan-controlled Cagayan de Oro Bulk Water Incorporated (COBI).

Rocel Halibas, FLOW president, said the daily picket would continue until normal working conditions are restored in the COWD. She said all the COWD workers wanted was a peaceful working environment.

The LWUA’s decision has been questioned by COWD General Manager Antonio Young and members of the water district’s board, who subsequently filed a petition before a regional court to prohibit the interim officials from taking over. 

They also sought a status quo ante order, a court directive to restore a situation to what it was before the contested action took place.

But the 38th branch of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Misamis Oriental dismissed their petition, which it treated as a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO), in a ruling made on June 13.

The now-dismissed petition was filed by Engineer Young, Nelia Lee, Gerry Cano, and Janet Floirendo against LWUA Administrator Jose Moises Salonga, Chairman Ronnie Ong, and members of the LWUA board of trustees. Until the LWUA takeover, Lee was serving as COWD’s chairman, while Cano and Floirendo served as members of the board set aside by the regulator of the provincial water districts.

In the three-page ruling, Judge Emmanuel Pasal said the petitioners “omitted the fact that for some time, COWD failed to supply residents of Cagayan de Oro City with water.”

Pasal added, “Nevertheless, what tips the balance against the petitioners is their failure to show grave and irreparable injury should this court deny the issuance of the TRO. Depriving them of their right to exercise their duties will not result in injury absent allegations that their usual compensation was also withheld.”

The court’s decision, however, did not put a stop to the bickering in the COWD, which has caught workers in the crossfire.

Fermin Jarales, COWD’s interim general manager, said he has issued a memorandum directing Young to perform his tasks in a work-from-home setting to prevent him “from implementing any unauthorized action, especially in the COWD premises, and causing further injury to the institution.”

Young, however, told Rappler that he has asked the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) and Civil Service Commission (CSC) about Jarales’ memo, saying it would “hamper the operations” of COWD. He said he has remained the authorized signatory for the water district’s transactions.

As this developed, the Mindanao Association of Water Districts (MAWD) released a position paper against the LWUA takeover of the COWD. 

The organization said, “Full intervention is not an appropriate solution to address the issues involving the terms of the Financial Assistance Contract entered into by COWD.”

The MAWD cited the case of the Catilan Water District in Surigao del Sur, which faced financial and operational issues in 2013. Although its officials requested a full takeover, the LWUA instead provided guidance and assistance through other means, MAWD said.

Incidentally, Young is a member of the MAWD board of trustees.

The LWUA takeover of COWD resulted from a directive by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in May, where he instructed the regulator to respond to the water crisis in Cagayan de Oro.

Ong, LWUA’s chairman, earlier said that aside from the unresolved debt dispute between COWD and COBI, another reason for the takeover was the water district’s high non-revenue water (NRW) rate, with nearly half of the city’s tap water supply being wasted due to leaks and unauthorized connections. –

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