Labella, LWUA sued
Three members of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) Board who were terminated by Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella in October sued the mayor and four officials of the Local Water Utilities Authority (LWUA) yesterday.
Atty. Ralph Sevilla, Augustus Pe, and Atty. Cecilia Adlawan asked the Regional Trial Court to nullify the notice of termination Labella issued, as well as the designation of interim members of the Board of Directors.
They asked that the court to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction, among others, and to order Labella and the LWUA officials to pay P1 million in moral damages.
The four LWUA officials sued are acting administrator Jeci Lapus and LWUA Board of Directors members Roberto San Andres, Eileen dela Vega, and Christina Marcelina.
"The facts of the case clearly demonstrates respondents' malicious, brazen, and wanton disregard and violation of the constitutional rights of due process of the plaintiffs most especially the plaintiff members of the MCWD board of directors," the 33-page petition reads.
The plaintiffs said Labella resorted to trial by publicity because they were never charged of any legally defined infraction. Labella and LWUA also allegedly did not listen to their side and did not give them a fair trial.
The respondents allegedly violated Section 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 of the Presidential Decree 198 or the Provincial Water Utilities Act of 1973.
Plaintiffs said LWUA and Labella violated the MCWD Charter, contending that there is nothing in LWUA's Charter that authorizes it to take over, either partially or fully, the operations of a local water district like MCWD.
It can be recalled that Labella, in a letter to each MCWD board member dated October 15, 2019, informed them of the termination of their services, citing widespread dissatisfaction on the part of water consumers.
“There is a process in the termination of the members of water district board of directors and it was not followed,” the MCWD Board said in a statement.
The plaintiffs said they decided to file the case so that laws are protected.
“It's a choice between one's interest and what is right and we chose what is right,” they said.
They said Labella does not have any authority to terminate their services, saying the termination was done
“without both substantive and procedural due process.”
They also questioned Lapus' approval of the illegal termination orders and the naming of the interim members of the board.
They said the respondents' actions violated several and wellentrenched memorandum circulars of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), which mandate the strict compliance and observance by local government units the operational autonomy and independence of local water districts.
"Respondents' orchestrated attacks against the plaintiffs are predicted upon the scarcity of water supply-phenomenon suffered not just by Cebu City and nearby LGUs but all over the world due to climate change and disregarded by humans by the law of nature," the petition reads.
"After the conclusion of the trial of the merit of the case, issue an order in favor of the plaintiffs making permanent the writ of preliminary prohibitory and/or mandatory injunction against the respondents," the petition reads further.
The mayor said he is ready to answer the charges in court and he already expected the filing of the case.
"Filing a case is one thing and proving it is another," Labella said.
He said he will file his counter-affidavit once he receives a formal copy of the petition.
"I will just prepare the necessary controverting evidence as part of the due process required… We are ready to answer them in the proper time," Labella said.
City Legal Officer Rey Gealon also believes that the law is on the side of the city government.
"The law is on our side and we have nothing to fear," Gealon said.
He said the mayor can terminate the members of the board of directors of a local water district for causes as provided by law, like failing to meet the fit and proper standard as prescribed in R.A. 10149 or for loss of trust and confidence as provided in jurisprudence.
Republic Act 10149 or the GOCC Governance Act of 2011, which applies to local water districts prescribes duties, obligations, responsibilities and standards of care in addition to the powers and functions prescribed by Presidential Decree 198.
R.A. 10149 states that members of the board of directors must pass a standard called the fit and proper rule which shall include, but not be limited to, standards on integrity, experience, education, training and competence.
"The Governance Commission for Government Owned and Controlled Corporation has issued Memorandum Circular No. 2012-05 to implement the fit and proper rule. Hence, directors of local water districts must qualify under P.D. 198 and R.A. 10149 and discharge their function under P.D. 198 while keeping the standards prescribed in R.A. 10149," reads the opinion from the city legal office.
Presidential Decree 198 or the Provincial Water Utilities Act of 1973 provides that in the event that more than 70 percent of the total active water service connections of a local water district falls within the boundary of a city, the appointing authority of the members of the board of directors of the local water district shall be the mayor of the said city.
On the other hand, Section 11 of P.D. 198 as amended by Section 5 of Presidential Decree 768 states that directors may be removed for cause only, subject to review and approval of the Administration.