Councilors seek clarification on legalities in Prime Water franchise application

ILOILO City – The Sangguniang Panlungsod will seek help from the Office of the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice in clarifying the legalities surrounding the water distribution franchise application of Prime Water Infrastructure Corp.

Councilor Plaridel Nava, committee on public utilities chairman, said his panel was “confronted with varying legal points of view” from concerned groups.

“There are no hard-and-fast rules and regulations and well-settled jurisprudence” regarding the matter, said Nava.

Citing provisions of the 1987 Constitution and the “general welfare clause” of Republic Act 7160, or the Local Government Code of 1991, Prime Water insisted that the city government has the “statutory authority” to issue a franchise for a water supply system.

It also invoked the “police power” vested in the local legislature to “make statutes and ordinances to promote the health, morals, peace, education, good order, or safety of the people.”

In addition, paragraph 3 (vii), Section 458 of the Local Government Code empowers the city council to “grant a franchise to any person, partnership, corporation, or cooperative” to do business within the city, said Prime Water.

One of the opponents of Prime Water’s application, bulk water supplier Flo Water Resources, Inc., argued that issuing a franchise for public utilities is not covered by the powers of the city council.

Metro Iloilo Water District, another opponent, stressed that the power to grant a franchise is lodged in Congress, not the local government units.

The MIWD added that, based on an Interior department opinion dated March 14, 2018, “the granting of water permits is within the competence of the National Water Resources Board (NWRB).”

“Everything that the interested parties espouse is … self-serving” and “remains and is still confined as an opinion,” Nava said in a committee report that the city council adopted Tuesday.

“I will get a final stand on the matter. If the OSG says we don’t have the authority, I will turn this (application) down,” the councilor said. “If it says we have the authority, I will immediately approve this.”

Specifically Nava said he will seek answers to the following questions:

* Does the phrase “to grant franchise” in paragraph 3 (vii) of Section 458 of the Local Government Code as one of the powers of the city council include the franchise “to construct, establish, commission, operate, and maintain a water supply system”? If not, what kind of franchise is then being contemplated by RA 7160?

* Does the term “water rights” as prescribed and defined by Presidential Decree 1076 (which governs ownership, appropriation, utilization, exploitation, development, conservation, and protection of water resources) similar to or stand in conflict with proposed “franchise to construct, establish, commission, operate and maintain a water system”?

* Does the “water rights” issued by the NWRB include the authority of Prime Water to construct, establish, commission, operate, and maintain a water system in the city of Iloilo?

“What does the law really say? Whose interpretation is correct and applicable?” Nava said in the committee report./PN


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