LEGAL OR ILLEGAL? Review of Iloilo City water distributors’ franchises sought

ILOILO City – Councilor Jay Treñas is calling for a review of the franchises granted to three water distributors by the previous Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP). He cited conflicting opinions on the legality of the franchises.

“The City Legal Office should conduct the review,” according to Treñas who intends to introduce a resolution to that effect in tomorrow’s city council session.

Just this March, the SP approved the franchise application jointly submitted by Manila Water Philippines Ventures, Inc. (Manila Water) and Tubig Pilipinas Group (TPG), Inc. 

Two months after, another franchise application was approved. It was filed by New Earth Water System (NEWS), Inc., a subsidiary of the Lucio Tan Group.

The SP also granted a water distribution franchises to Prime Water last year. 

“We want to know if indeed okay kita dira sa pag-approve sang water franchises. There are conflicting opinions. In fact, there was a complaint previously filed against the franchise of South Balibago Resources, Inc. (SBRI),” said Treñas.

SBRI secured a water distribution franchise from the SP in 2016. This did not sit well with state-owned Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD), a long-time water distributor in this city. It sued the city council for granting the franchise.

After the SP approved Prime Water’s franchise last year, MIWD filed a complaint against eight SP members who voted in favor of it for usurpation of official function, graft and corruption, culpable violation of the Constitution, grave abuse of authority, gross negligence, grave misconduct, and acts contrary to law.

MIWD claimed the city councilors did not have the authority to do so. They were Joshua Alim, Lyndon Acap, R Leone Gerochi, Mandrie Malabor, Plaridel Nava, Eduardo Peñaredondo, Liezl Joy Zulueta Salazar, and Candice Magdalane Tupas.

According to MIWD, the authority to grant a water distribution franchise belonged solely to the National Water Resources Board.

The water district also included in the charge then mayor Jose Espinosa III. It noted that he endorsed the franchise without awaiting or securing the opinions of the Office of the Solicitor General and Department of Justice on the matter.

“The respondents clearly acted with manifest partially, evident bad faith and gross inexcusable negligence,” stressed the MIWD.

Councilor Treñas and allies in the SP – Lady Julie Grace Baronda, Ely Estante, Ma. Irene Ong, and Leila Luntao – were not included in the charges because they abstained from voting.

Treñas, however, stressed their abstention did not mean they were against providing additional water supply to Iloilo City residents but that they had reservations about the legality of the granting.

The review, said Treñas, should guide the new SP when dealing with water distribution franchise applications in the future.

In approving the Prime Water franchise, the SP cited the committee report of then Councilor Plaridel Nava, chairperson of the committee on public utilities.

The people were clamoring for “better quality of water supply and services,” read part of the committee report.

It added that “Iloilo City is in need of a more efficient water utility capable of constructing, establishing, commissioning, operating, and maintaining a water supply system that sufficiently addresses the public need…” 

In his committee report, Nava cited Section 458 of the Local Government Code of 1991 which stated that the SP as legislative body shall enact ordinances and appropriate funds for the general welfare.

“The sanggunian’s authority to legislate local laws must be anchored on or should be designed to deliver basic services and facilities to promote the general welfare,” read part of the committee report./PN


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