Cagayan de Oro City

Tensions rise in Cagayan de Oro as group protests vs LWUA, water district manager

Franck Dick Rosete

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Tensions rise in Cagayan de Oro as group protests vs LWUA, water district manager

PROTEST. A resident joins the protest organized by the Bantay Tubig Movement on Tuesday, July 2, in front of the Cagayan de Oro Water District’s main office.

Franck Dick Rosete/Rappler

Former Cagayan de Oro councilor Enrico Salcedo says the street protest is meant to pressure the water district's interim officials to rescind or rid the firm’s contract with its primary supplier of 'onerous' provisions

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Tensions rose on Tuesday, July 2, as a group led by a former city councilor protested, demanding the removal of the interim manager of the Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD) and calling for the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) to stay out of the public utility’s affairs.

Protesters, including several barangay officials, took to the streets with banners bearing anti-LWUA messages and seeking the removal of COWD interim manager Fermin Jarales. One banner read that the LWUA “is not welcome in Cagayan de Oro.”

The street protest, staged by the group Bantay Tubig Movement (BTM), came several days after the COWD’s interim board approved a cease-and-desist order against the utility’s sidelined general manager due to his alleged continuous interference despite the LWUA takeover of the water district.

Enrico Salcedo former Cagayan de Oro councilor
PRESSURE. Former city councilor Enrico Salcedo, lead convenor of the Bantay Tubig Movement, answers questions from the media, explaining that the protest on Tuesday, July 2, aims to pressure the Cagayan de Oro Water District’s interim management to address their appeal. Franck Dick Rosete/Rappler

City hall night market team head Enrico Salcedo, a former city councilor and BTM convenor, said the street protest was launched to pressure COWD’s interim officials to rescind or rid the firm’s contract with its primary supplier of provisions, which they see as onerous.

Protesters said the interim officials have not acted on their call to address the COWD’s 2017 contract with the Manny V. Pangilinan-controlled Cagayan de Oro Bulk Water Incorporated (COBI).

On June 18, BTM submitted a manifesto, signed by 17,228 residents, to the COWD to protest a clause in the contract that allows COBI to adjust its water rate every three years. Salcedo’s group said the provision was disadvantageous to the COWD and the city’s water consumers.

Jarales, however, said the COWD’s interim board has been deliberating on the contract and is now addressing the financial aspects of the 2017 agreement after establishing its position on the legal aspect.

“Once our report is finished, it will be presented to them for consultation,” Jarales said.

The LWUA, the regulator of public water utilities in the provinces, took over the COWD on May 29, following the order of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for it to intervene after a water supply crisis briefly gripped Cagayan de Oro. The crisis stemmed from an unresolved debt dispute of over P400 million between the COWD and COBI.

The problem resulted in a temporary supply disconnection on May 14.

A cease-and-desist order, issued on Friday, June 28, directed COWD’s sidelined general manager, Engineer Antonio Young, to stop discharging the functions of a general manager.

Young was prohibited from interfering in the COWD’s operations and administration, including the signing of documents and checks.

The engineer was also barred from entering the COWD office and other facilities unless authorized by Jarales.

The COWD interim board’s drastic move came after its members were informed that Young had allegedly been presenting himself as the COWD’s functioning general manager despite the LWUA takeover.

Jarales alleged that there was an instance when a document couldn’t be signed due to a resolution passed by the sidelined COWD board because employees were instructed to follow no one but Young. In a May 29 press conference, Young confirmed that the board issued the resolution.

A day later, however, Jarales issued a memorandum directing all COWD employees to report only to the interim board and general manager following the takeover. He asked the workers to maintain their professionalism and prevent any sabotage.

“In the interim period, it is the interim management that will handle the operation of COWD,” Jarales told Rappler in an interview on Monday, July 1.

On June 25, Jarales issued another memorandum, directing Young to perform tasks he was authorized to do in a work-from-home setting, an order which the sidelined manager questioned before the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) and Civil Service Commission (CSC).

Based on Jarales’ order, Young’s new working arrangement was implemented to prevent him from carrying out unauthorized actions.

Rappler sought comment from Young, but he declined to give a statement, following his lawyer’s advice.

Earlier, however, Young said he couldn’t just abandon his post despite the LWUA takeover, adding that he was still awaiting the response of the OGCC.

Young also pointed out in a previous interview that working from home would not be possible for him because it would hamper the operations of the water district. He said he remained the authorized COWD signatory.

The COWD’s interim officials warned that they would be compelled to “take the appropriate action” against Young if he forced the issue. –

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