Cagayan de Oro City

Thousands sign manifesto to seek overhaul in water supply deal in Cagayan de Oro

Franck Dick Rosete

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Thousands sign manifesto to seek overhaul in water supply deal in Cagayan de Oro

RATION. A city hall worker provides water to a resident affected by a temporary supply disruption in Cagayan de Oro.

Cagayan de Oro City Mayor’s Office

At least 17,228 people sign to rescind or amend the 2017 contract due to a rate adjustment provision seen by them as disadvantageous

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Thousands of water consumers signed a manifesto calling for changes to, or the voiding of, a contract between the Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD) and its primary bulk water supplier.

Former Cagayan de Oro councilor Enrico Salcedo, lead convenor of the Bantay Tubig Movement, said at least 17,228 people signed the manifesto to rescind or amend COWD’s 2017 bulk water agreement with the Manny V. Pangilinan-controlled Cagayan de Oro Bulk Water Incorporated (COBI) due to a provision on rate adjustments they found disadvantageous.

Salcedo said the manifesto was submitted to the COWD on Tuesday afternoon, June 18.

Complaint about the water deal in Cagayan de Oro
COMPLAIN. Former councilors Enrico Salcedo (left) and Reuben Roa Daba (right), and Councilor James Judith II (center), show the complaint they filed before the Philippine Competition Commission on April 25. courtesy of James Judith

The Bantay Tubig Movement questioned the contract provision that allows COBI to implement a water rate adjustment every three years, claiming it allegedly had no approval from the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) and lacked public consultation.

“If it cannot be rescinded, at least that provision should be amended,” Salcedo told Rappler on Tuesday.

The signature campaign started when COBI disconnected its supply to the water district on May 14 due to the latter’s disputed debt exceeding P400 million.

Several villages were affected by the disconnection. However, later that day, a temporary restraining order was issued by a regional court enjoining the supplier from disconnecting the supply and distribution to COWD.

In 2017, Salcedo and two other councilors questioned the COWD-COBI contract and filed a complaint before the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC). In 2018, Sunstar Cagayan de Oro reported that the PCC found no competition issues after reviewing the agreements between COWD, Metro Pacific Water Investments Corporation (Metropac), and Rio Verde Water Consortium Incorporated, Metropac’s sub-contractor. Metro Pacific controls COBI.

On April 25, Salcedo and two other politicians re-filed the complaint before the PCC, but the commission has yet to act on it.

Cagayan de Oro Councilor James Judith, one of the complainants, said they planned to bring the matter to court.

“Why should we take it longer? We will proceed there to rescind the contract,” Judith said.

Roberto Rodrigo, Metro Pacific’s senior legal counsel, said rescinding the 2017 contract would result in more problems “since there will be legal obstacles for COWD to purchase directly from Rio Verde.”

Rio Verde was COWD’s first bulk water supplier until a court voided their contract, and the Commission on Audit (COA) issued notices of disallowances about payments made by the water district to the former.

Rodrigo also said the 2017 COWD-COBI agreement “can only be terminated in accordance with the provisions of our contract.”

He earlier explained that Rio Verde has a contractual obligation to provide COBI with 100,000 cubic meters of treated water per day, which is Rio Verde’s maximum supply capacity. This means, according to Rodrigo, that Rio Verde cannot directly sell to the water district while it has a contract with COBI.

However, COBI currently buys only 80,000 of the 100,000 cubic meters per day from Rio Verde because COWD requested it due to system limitations, according to Rodrigo.

Engineer Antonio Young, COWD general manager, wrote to COBI on March 13 to discuss proposals to amend some provisions under the contract. Apart from the water rate adjustments every three years, Young wanted to amend three more provisions in the contract.

In May, the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) installed interim COWD officials and temporarily “set aside” Young and members of the water district’s board.

Fermin Jarales, COWD’s interim general manager, said the Bantay Tubig Movement’s initiative was a “welcome development” in efforts to stir public discussions and participation about the state of the city’s water supply.

“When we get the 17,000 signatures, we’re happy people are participating,” Jarales told Rappler on Wednesday. “They’re calling for rescission or amendment. Our stand is if there’s an allegedly onerous provision in the contract, it should be at least amended in order to correct the contract.”

He said members of the water district’s interim board were already looking into the disputed COWD debt being claimed by COBI.

Jarales said COWD, through its interim officials, would have a “definitive stand” on the matter in less than a month. –

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