Cagayan de Oro City

Pangilinan group restores Cagayan de Oro water supply as Marcos steps in

Franck Dick Rosete

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Pangilinan group restores Cagayan de Oro water supply as Marcos steps in

INTERVIEW. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. answers reporters' questions during his Cagayan de Oro visit on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Franck Rosete/Rappler

The bulk water supplier's lawyer says the move to resume the water supply was 'voluntary' and had nothing to do with the court-issued temporary restraining order

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – The Cagayan de Oro Bulk Water Incorporated (COBI) resumed its water supply to the local water district following initial discussions between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and business tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan.

Roberto Rodrigo, senior legal counsel of Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Water, the controlling entity of COBI, confirmed on Friday, May 17, that the Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD) had begun receiving treated water from COBI.

The supply from COBI accounts for nearly half of the treated water the COWD has been distributing in Cagayan de Oro and parts of Misamis Oriental.

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COBI and COWD have been embroiled in a corporate dispute over an outstanding debt since 2021, which has now nearly reached P500 million. Despite repeated demands and notices of disconnection, the water district refused to acknowledge the ballooning debt, leading COBI to cut off the supply on Tuesday, May 14.

Later that day, the COWD secured a 72-hour temporary restraining order (TRO) from a regional court. COBI has argued that there was nothing left to restrain as the disconnection had already taken place.

Rodrigo said the move to resume the water supply was “voluntary” on the part of COBI and had nothing to do with the court-issued TRO.

“The TRO was issued after the disconnection. Because of this, the TRO was in fact moot at the time of issuance,” read Rodrigo’s text message to Rappler.

On Thursday, May 16, Marcos announced in Cagayan de Oro that he talked and appealed to Pangilinan to restore the normal supply of treated water while the government was looking for a resolution of the COBI-COWD dispute. 

Marcos also said the business tycoon agreed to his request and even agreed to meet with Cagayan de Oro Mayor Rolando Uy.

The President also directed the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) to consider taking over the water district so it could have a direct hand in working for a swift resolution of the dispute and perform its obligations.

The COWD has kept mum over Marcos’ directive to LWUA. The water district’s general manager, Engineer Antonio Young, declined to give a statement.

Crowd, Person, People
ANSWER. Engineer Antonio Young, general manager of the Cagayan de Oro Water District, answers reporters’ questions during a May 8 press conference. Franck Dick Rosete/Rappler

LWUA immediately responded to Marcos’ order about a potential takeover, saying its board has scheduled a meeting on Friday, May 17, “to discuss the next steps we will take as the regulating agency.”

“We shall address the matters at hand with extreme urgency,” read a statement from LWUA.

COBI welcomed Marcos’ intervention and effort to resolve its dispute with COWD.

Rodrigo said LWUA’s likely intervention “should address any inefficiencies of COWD.”

He added, “What the President said is accurate. Consistent with our previous statements, COBI has always been open to talks with COWD.”

Cagayan de Oro Councilor Edgar Cabanlas told local broadcaster Magnum Radio that local officials were looking into the President’s directive, adding that they were apprehensive because they see LWUA as a government entity with “bad credibility.”

Cabanlas blamed LWUA for Cagayan de Oro’s water supply problem, saying it was the entity that approved the COWD-COBI contract.

He said LWUA allowed the entry of COBI in Cagayan de Oro at the time when the COWD and its previous bulk water supplier, Rio Verde Water Consortium Incorporated, suffered problems with their contract and transactions.

Cabanlas said LWUA’s solution then to avert a looming water crisis was to allow COBI to enter into the picture.

“How can we trust LWUA? We, in Cagayan de Oro, should assert what is proper and what is good for the people,” Cabanlas said.

Years ago, a court voided the COWD-Rio Verde contract, while the Commission on Audit (COA) called them out because their transactions were found to be “without legal basis.”

Cagayan de Oro suffered a water crisis this week after COWD and COBI failed to reach a settlement about a disputed debt that has already reached P479 million. The amount mostly represents the price difference when the supplier implemented water rate adjustments in 2021 and early 2024.

In 2021, COWD invoked the force majeure clause in their 2017 contract, refusing to acknowledge the adjustment implemented by COBI. The water district has been reiterating that it has no legal basis to acknowledge the price difference.

Meanwhile, the city council held a special session on Thursday, and authorized Mayor Uy to file a petition for intervention regarding the pleading of COWD and several others against Metro Pacific Water, COBI, and Rio Verde. They have sought a permanent injunction to stop COBI from cutting off the supply of water to COWD. –

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