Bulk water

Just last week, Pavia municipal mayor Arcadio Gorriceta paraded over local media what he described as a trailblazing achievement for a local government unit (LGU) when he signed a bulk water supply contract with Pilipinas Water, Inc. Under the contract, Pilipinas Water is supposed to build a multi-million peso water filtration and treatment plant that would turn water from the river into potable drinking water. It’s supposed to be another feather in the cap of Mayor Gorriceta.

But almost immediately, the contract drew unfavorable reactions after apparent legal infirmities were discovered.

First, what was the legal basis for the LGU embarking on such an endeavor? Is it a contract for services that is governed by the Government Procurement Act? Or is it an undertaking in the purview of the build-operate-transfer (BOT) law? How did Pavia get to choose Pilipinas Water as the private partner for the project? Will it involve the expenditure of public funds? What studies were made the basis for the project? Were there public hearings?

Second, there’s the issue of transgressing an exclusive turf of the Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD). Pavia happens to be within the franchise service area of MIWD, and it is apparent the scandal-rocked water district had no participation in the scheme. Did the contract intend to sell and deliver potable water to households in Pavia? If so, that would run afoul with the law. You can’t just barge into a service area unless a waiver of sorts is issued. And even if MIWD doesn’t object, how will Mayor Gorriceta distribute the water to Pavia households? MIWD is not going to allow them to use its pipes in Pavia. Will he deploy water tankers to go around and sell water to his constituents by the gallon?

Apparently, Mayor Gorriceta rushed head-long into this project with profits in mind. He didn’t think about the legal and practical considerations. This is an embarrassing twist for a man who likes to comport himself as a “super-mayor”. It’s DOA — dead on arrival. Now he will have a hard time explaining to his constituents why he can’t deliver water.  Next time, he’d profit more if he adhered to the railroad crossing sign that says, “Stop, look and listen.”