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No vacancy at the MIWD

City Mayor Jose Espinosa III should quickly pull out the appointments he made for the Board of Directors of the Metro Iloilo Water District and reverse his position that the entire five-man board was rendered vacant.
In December 2016, the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional a provision in the Local Water Utility Act (PD 198) that gives the power to appoint members of the BOD to the provincial governor when the number of active users of an HUC fall below 75% as it applied to the Metro Cebu Water District.
The ruling did not create a vacancy in the existing BOD of the MCWD.
What happened was that one seat in the BOD was vacated in December 2016 which was about when the decision came out. That’s because the six-year term of Atty. Manuel Legaspi expired at the end of December 2016. The next month, January 2017, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmena appointed Jose Mari Yu to replace Atty. Legaspi.
Yu is now the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the MCWB.
The other four BOD members whose terms had not expired continued to occupy their board seats and will remain there until their terms expire.
LET ME REPEAT: CEBU CITY MAYOR TOMAS OSMENA APPOINTED ONLY ONE DIRECTOR TO FILL UP ONE VACANCY.
This has been my position since this controversy broke out since last year.
True, the ruling on the MCWD applied to all water districts in the country that are similarly situated. But the Supreme Court ruling did not create a vacancy in the MIWD. It certainly did not happen that way in the case of Cebu City.

Hence, the power of the City Mayor to appoint did not arise as yet. Besides, there are procedures to be followed in the appointment process. For instance, the law requires that when a vacancy occurs, the Board Secretary is required to solicit nominations and submits a short list to the appointing authority.
Before the City Mayor gets into deeper trouble, my advise is for him to recall the appointments. Better to be embarrassed than be knocked out by a suspension on this.
I’m sorry to say this, but Mayor Joe III has gotten bad advice on this. He should be careful about making decisions on matters that can have enormous repercussions.

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Florete: ‘We can deliver’

(Part I of a Special Report on the Water Supply Situation in Iloilo City)

Flowater Resources (Iloilo) Inc. has the capability to deliver the contracted 25,000 cubic meters of processed water to ease the shortage of tap water in Iloilo City.

The problem is that its customer, Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD), does not have big enough pipes to bring the water to the more than 139,000 households in its franchise area.

This was the assertion Sunday of Dr. Rogelio Florete, chairman of FloWater, during a plant tour and press conference at the company’s P1 billion water treatment facility in Barangay Nanga, Pototan.

“Would I be stupid to spend a billion pesos only to fall short on my commitment?” Florete remarked before a small group of media persons. Former city councilor Perla Zulueta, who had once served on the board of directors of the MIWD, was also present to hear Florete out.

To prove his point, Florete gave the media group access to the 5-hectare property beside the Jalaur River and the water flow metering station where the company’s main 800-mm pipe connects with the MIWD in Leganes, Iloilo.

At the intake pond on the northern bank of the river, Florete showed media that FloWater has three submersible pumps, each capable of drawing 15,000 cubic meters of raw water into its filtration and treatment plant.

Dr. Rogelio Florete explains to media the mechanics of how raw water from the Jalaur River in Barangay Nanga, Pototan is pumped into its treatment facilities from a P20-million intake pond beside the riverbank.

Dr. Rogelio Florete explains to media the mechanics of how raw water from the Jalaur River in Barangay Nanga, Pototan is pumped into its treatment facilities from a P20-million intake pond beside the riverbank.

“To meet the contracted volume of 25,000 cubic meters daily, we just need to operate two submersible pumps,” Florete said. The third one serves as a spare in case one of the two submersible pumps break down.

And it’s not all: Florete showed there are a total of six chambers (one unit for each chamber) on the intake pond for the submersible pumps. Three more are not yet equipped with submersible pumps; these are in anticipation of future business when demand for water grows bigger.

It was this intake pond that became the cause of delays in the plant’s commissioning. “My agreement with the contractor was design, build and transfer,” he said. However, the contractor wanted Florete to start paying him even before construction work could even start, he explained.

“When he continued to drag his feet on the intake pond, I threw him out of the project and took over the work,” Florete added.

Florete also complained the contract imposed a deadline that was impossible to meet. “We were given only six months from the award of the contract to start delivery,” he said. Within that period, he pointed out that he was expected to buy land where the plant was to be built, obtain approval for its conversion from agricultural to industrial, develop the facility and lay out the pipes. “Even just the process of getting the conversion approved took months,” he said.

Workers at the intake pond of the FloWater Resources (Iloilo) Inc. use a vacuum hose to suck sludge from the bottom to keep its depth at optimum level and ensure uninterrupted flow of raw water into its pumping stations.

Workers at the intake pond of the FloWater Resources (Iloilo) Inc. use a vacuum hose to suck sludge from the bottom to keep its depth at optimum level and ensure uninterrupted flow of raw water into its pumping stations.

But Florete said he plodded on, determine to make his own positive contribution, and legacy, to the growth of Iloilo City.

The idea of a bulk supply contract to meet MIWD’s requirements came after its management realized its existing network of deep wells augmenting the main supply line from Maasin was simply inadequate.  MIWD has deep wells in Oton and San Miguel that draw tens of thousands of cubic meters from a known aquifer in the area. Not only was the volume of water pumped from underground sources not enough; there’s concern about overdrawing from the aquifer that could result in salt intrusion. If that happens, the aquifer would be rendered useless, as the process is irreversible.

The mainstay for MIWD’s water supply is the antiquated intake dam in Barangay Daja, Maasin, where the water is then pumped several kilometers to the filter and treatment facility in Barangay Talanghauan, Sta. Barbara. The facilities were designed and built in 1926 during the American colonial rule in the Philippines.

Supply is not the only problem. A critical factor, too, for the MIWD’s inability to deliver a steady stream of water to households is the derelict network of pipes serving the franchise area. Hundreds of millions of pesos have been spent for pipe-laying during the last two decades, but it appears much of the money went to corruption. It was discovered that most of the pipes on the ground are old, with leaks springing every hundred meters or so.

Because of these problems, a study commissioned by the World Bank, known as the “Castalia Report”, showed that MIWD is able to provide water to less than 20% of the 139,000 households in its franchise area. The study was conducted seven years ago, and since then, more subdivisions have sprouted all over the city. That number could easily rise to 145,000.

The situation is rather embarrassing for a city that aspires to host the 2015 APEC sub-ministers meeting and markets itself as a tourist destination. Its hotels depend on twice-a-day deliveries from water tankers to keep their faucets flowing. Only a few areas in the city enjoy 24-hour water service. In many areas, hardly a drop of water reaches households. The business of water tanker deliveries has enjoyed brisk sales because of this.

Hence, the need for a bulk supplier to meet the city’s needs.

(To be continued)

The MIWD mess is getting murkier

How to get rid of an uncooperative board of directors?

This must have been the question that bedevilled LWUA chairman Butch Pichay (my primo) for quite sometime now regarding the Metro Iloio Water District (MIWD).

Pichay has found it difficult to push planned reforms for the MIWD because of the well-entrenched board of directors that refused to yield to the various attempts to change course. Basically, the board was locked in bullhorn-to-bullhorn battle with the water district’s management team. The stalemate effectively stopped the MIWD on its tracks to any improvement in its services.

There is no dispute that the MIWD has one of the worst water supply services in the country. So many millions of pesos in pipe-laying projects have been wasted as this hasn’t resulted in more households getting a steady supply of potable water on their faucets. Until now, a big portion of the city doesn’t have potable water and residents depend on private water suppliers for their daily needs. The board blames the management for this. Management is quick to throw the blame back to the board.

This has frustrated Pichay who has tried his best to play the role of referee. With no improvement in the situation in sight, Pichay looked elsewhere for a solution. This is where some bright boys at the LWUA must have put forward a bizarre solution: kick the entire board out of office through a legal question on their appointments. LWUA came out with a pronouncement that henceforth, the power to appoint members of the MIWD board of directors is vested in the provincial governor. The reason? The number of active service connections within Iloilo City failed to reach 75%, and under the law, this strips the city mayor of his power to appoint the board.

And with a questionable decree, the LWUA simply declared the existing board members as having lost their seats, saying their appointments were void ab initio.

Which is which?

LWUA might be correct on the point that the power to appoint now rests with the provincial governor. But it isn’t as simple as that. There has to be a transparent process to establish the factual basis for the removal of the appointing authority from the city mayor and transferring it to the provincial governor. There should be consultations with the LGUs concerned so that all parties are adequately informed about the legal and factual basis.

What happened here is that LWUA supposedly asked MIWD to submit a report on the distribution of its service connections, and when they checked, the figures no longer support the continued authority to appoint in the city mayor. Indeed, the provincial governor is the appointing authority for board members of water districts in the province serving two or more municipalities. There’s nothing controversial about that.

In an interview, Congressman Jerry P. Trenas raises a valid point about the legality of the LWUA’s action in unilaterally nullifying existing appointments. Is the LWUA vested with judicial powers to declare certain actions void ab initio? Even if there is basis for the nullification of these appointments, Trenas argues that only the proper courts could rule on the issue.

I know Chairman Pichay has noble motives in trying to sweep clean the board of directors of MIWD. But it has to be done in accordance with the law. It might entail a slow and cumbersome process, but that’s how things are done.