When the hunter becomes the hunted
CHARLIE V. MANALO
The Manila Times
ACOUPLE of weeks ago, I wrote an article regarding the controversy surrounding the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD), the chairman of which, Jose Daluz 3rd, has reportedly refused to vacate his office despite supposed demands coming from his appointing officer — Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama. Rama wants Daluz out of MCWD for his alleged failure to solve the city’s water problems. This Rama-Daluz conflict has prompted the board of trustees (BOT) of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) to take action “passing a resolution” suspending Daluz and the entire MCWD board for a period of six months, and allowing LWUA-BOT to name temporary replacements. Said resolution would allow MCWD stakeholders, including the Cebu City government to name permanent replacements, for Daluz and the members of the board within six months. However, according to a source I have talked to, there were alleged maneuverings within the LWUA to subvert the agency’s action by attempting to obstruct the issuance of the said resolution. Additionally, according to the source, the situation has reached a point where LWUA board secretary Danilo Beleno Jr. has even accused LWUA chairman Ronnie Ong of physically attacking him. This was promptly denied by Ong, who said he only verbally reprimanded Beleno for pulling out Resolution 35 while it was being routed for signature by the other members of the BOT without the consent of the chairman. Initially, I accepted this piece of information as I personally saw Ong during his stint as congressman, and I know him to be a massive 6-footer. Also, the source added that Ong was a Krav Maga martial artist. He said that Beleno would have landed in the hospital had he been attacked by Ong. Given this info, I would have no doubt of his capabilities. I was supposed to do a followup article on the MWCD controversy when I stumbled on some issues I missed in my first article, which I am very sorry to say, run counter to what I wrote earlier. First, according to Presidential Decree 198, the law which created LWUA, the regulatory body overseeing the water districts all over the country, while local government officials have the power to appoint officials of water districts, they have absolutely no authority to remove them, thus Rama’s demand for Daluz to vacate the office is misplaced. In fact, in 2019, then-Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año issued a memorandum reminding local officials against controlling water districts. In Memorandum Circular 201903, Año stressed that, “Local officials should not poke their noses into the operations of local water districts because said districts are autonomous by themselves.” Año had issued the memorandum after receiving reports that some local government officials are meddling in the operations of local water districts which defeats the purpose and intent of the law by which such districts were created. As such, water districts are autonomous agencies independent of local government units and that even the LWUA cannot at a flick of the finger (or a mere resolution) remove and replace any water district official. Conducting further research, it was revealed that LWUA can only take over the operations of a water district and replace its officials on three grounds: a) the water district has defaulted on its debt; b) there is an order from the Ombudsman; c) again, another order, this time from the Civil Service Commission. Thus, the resolution supposedly approved by the LWUA has no bearing as it doesn’t have any legal basis to stand on. Further, LWUA administrator Vicente Homer Revil revealed that the resolution supposedly replacing the MWCD chairman and two of its board members has not been approved by the LWUA board. Revil explains that the said resolution was only “hastily” submitted on the day of the LWUA board meeting itself. “Copies of board materials have to be submitted in advance before it becomes part of the agenda in the board meeting. Moreover, there was no prior legal and technical review by the LWUA management on the proposed takeover of MCWD,” Revil said. He added that the resolution was only signed by two out of the five members of the LWUA board which is not a majority, hence, not a final and executory resolution. Aside from this, there is also an issue of forgery of the signature of the LWUA board secretary on Resolution 35, which was drafted by LWUA chairman Ronnie Ong’s private staff. When asked by Ong for an update on the resolution weeks later, Beleno replied that there was an issue concerning the authenticity of the board secretary’s signature. And this is where the issue of Ong assaulting Beleno comes up. According to a press release from LWUA, “Upon hearing that there was an ‘integrity’ issue on the resolution, the chairman blew his top and physically assaulted Atty. Beleno.” “There is a medical report and a blotter regarding this incident,” the press statement adds. Now, whereas before it was made to appear that it was Ong who has been seeking justice for being supposedly played by Beleno and other LWUA board members, it has become contingent upon Ong to disprove these allegations of forgery and physical assault. Plus an explanation on why they really want the MCWD chairman and board removed and replaced. A case of the hunter becoming the hunted. *** Congratulations are in order. First, to my compadre, Atty. Tranquil Salvador, whose son — Tranquil Mathew 4th — placed fifth in the 2023 Physician Licensure Examinations. A graduate of the University of the Philippines, Tranquil Mathew got a rating of 87.19 percent, less than a point behind the first placer who got a grade of 89 percent. Incidentally, Atty. Tranquil was also accorded a Special Alumni Recognition award from the Ateneo Law Alumni Association Inc. during their recent alumni homecoming for having twice been a law school dean. Congratulations to you both. *** Also, I would like to extend my congratulations to a friend, Rene Rivo of MusicHaven, and all the organizers of the recently concluded HiFi Show held at the Dusit Thani Hotel last November 11 and 12. The latest edition of the HiFi Show was the 19th, having started in November 2004, according to Rene. Rene recalled how the show began, starting as a mere record swap meet. Now, it has evolved into a premier high fidelity exhibition in the country, with exhibitors being invited to display their wares in similar HiFi Shows in other countries. Congratulations! See you again next year!