Cagayan de Oro City

LWUA slams use of police force as Cagayan de Oro water debt dispute worsens

Franck Dick Rosete

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LWUA slams use of police force as Cagayan de Oro water debt dispute worsens

GUARDED. Two policemen secure the entrance of the water treatment plant of Rio Verde Water Consortium Incorporated ias part of a contingency plan to ensure that there is no cutting of the water supply.

courtesy of Menzie Montes of iFM-Cagayan de Oro

The Cagayan de Oro City Police Office denies LWUA’s allegations but admitted sending police officers outside the water facility just to maintain peace and order

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Water utility sector regulator Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) decried the alleged forced entry by the local police into a private firm’s water facility used in providing treated water in Cagayan de Oro.

This came following an order from the Cagayan de Oro Bulk Water Incorporated (COBI) for a subcontractor to cut off the supply of water to the Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD), a decision which stemmed from a corporate debt dispute.

COBI, controlled by business tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Water, is the COWD’s primary supplier of treated water. Its supply accounts for more than 40% of the water COWD is distributing in the city. 

Negotiations for a settlement between the two entities reached a stalemate on Tuesday, April 30, prompting the bulk water supplier to order a disconnection of the water supply to COWD. 

In a May 1 statement, the LWUA said COBI reported that the police forced their way into the facility of Rio Verde Water Consortium Incorporated, the subcontractor, on the evening of April 30 to prevent it from implementing COBI’s order.

The Cagayan de Oro City Police Office (COCPO) strongly denied LWUA’s allegation but admitted sending police officers outside the facility to maintain peace and order. 

Rio Verde, a firm owned by Palawan Representative Jose Alvarez, has been contracted by COBI to provide it with treated water, which the latter then sells to COWD.

Earlier that day, COBI wrote to Rio Verde, ordering it to “cease from supplying water to COWD until further notice” due to the failure of the water district to settle its obligations based on their 2017 bulk water contract, despite repeated demands.

April 30 was the deadline set by COBI for the COWD to settle a disputed debt of more than P400 million. 

COWD has refused to acknowledge the debt, representing the difference in the increased rate COBI implemented in 2021, arguing that it was a period when the country felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

That year, COBI increased its rates from P16.60 to P20.57 per cubic meter in 2021 and increased it further to P24.19 early this year.

COWD officials said they have been regularly paying COBI based on the P16.60 per cubic meter rate, and never acknowledged the rate increases.

LWUA said the police’s actions were without due process of law, quoting COBI representatives as stating that no formal notice was presented by the authorities.

Cagayan de Oro Mayor Rolando Uy has placed the city under a state of emergency, and the local government was authorized by the city council to use its police power to avert a water crisis as a result of the COWD-COBI dispute.

“[The forced entry by the police] just further aggravated the situation between COBI and COWD,” LWUA Chairman Ronnie Ong said, adding that there was no clause in the law that created LWUA and the water districts that allows the intervention of the local government and the police.

LWUA Administrator Jose Moises Salonga said the alleged forced entry of the police was a “groundless exercise of power and misuse of authority that has worsened the affairs” between the two corporate entities.

Responding to the allegations, the Cagayan de Oro police released a statement on Thursday, May 2, stressing that they merely deployed police personnel to the entrance of Rio Verde’s establishment and other water supply installations “for police visibility and to maintain peace and order.”

Cagayan de Oro Councilor Edgar Cabanlas said the police were just following the contingency plan prepared by a local government task force the moment COBI cut off the supply.

Earlier, Cabanlas said that in case there was a “real threat,” the police could stop anyone, including Rio Verde, from closing the valves, citing the general welfare clause in the Local Government Code.

Police pointed out that Rio Verde’s water treatment plant is located in neighboring Barangay Pualas, Baungon town in Bukidnon, where the Cagayan de Oro police didn’t have territorial jurisdiction. Rio Verde, however, has water supply facilities and installations in Cagayan de Oro.

The city police also criticized Salonga, calling his statement “misleading, baseless, and potentially detrimental” to the police force.

Meanwhile, LWUA frowned on what it called the “lack of sense of urgency” on the part of COWD’s board of directors in addressing the matter, adding that it resulted in a notice of disconnection from the water supplier.

On April 30, LWUA organized an urgent meeting with the involved parties. The proposals from the meeting were subject for review and approval by the water district’s policy-making body before they could pass a board resolution. 

Despite this, the COWD board was unable to reach a quorum as most of its members were not available at that time.

Roberto Rodrigo, senior legal counsel for Metro Pacific Water, said they have been juggling their schedules to meet with COWD and LWUA representatives. He said he did not see any justifiable reason why the COWD directors cannot do the same.

Engineer Antonio Young, COWD general manager, said the water district’s policymakers will meet on May 6 to further discuss the dispute with COBI and LWUA representatives. –

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