Mayor defies DILG on water utilities

By: Emme Rose Santiagudo

ANY opinion or reminder from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) regarding the control and operation of public water utilities will not prevent Iloilo City Mayor Jose S. Espinosa from granting water distribution franchises.

According to Mayor Espinosa, as long as water shortage prevails, the city government will impose measures that will solve the problem.

“As long as the water supply is lacking, we will do measures. I am not meddling with them unless it’s really a need and most especially if we have shortage in water supply,” he said.

Espinosa emphasized the need to improve the city and lamented the lack of water supply for portable toilets during the recent Dinagyang Festival.

“We are becoming a major tourist destination so we need to improve our city,” he said.

Recently, he DILG issued a reminder to the local government units (LGU) that are interfering in the operations of local water district.

DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año issued the reminder through Memorandum Circular No. 2019-03 after receiving reports that some local government officials are meddling in the operations of water districts.

“Local officials should not poke their noses into the operation of local water districts because said districts are autonomous by themselves,” Año said.

DILG emphasized that local water districts are not under the jurisdiction of any political subdivision as the national government agency tasked to oversee local water districts is the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA).

“Local officials should respect the autonomy of local water districts while giving their support and assistance to operations,” Año said.

This was not the first time that DILG issued its opinion on water franchises and utilities.

In its Opinion No. 18 Series of 2018 posted on the agency’s official website on March 21, 2018, DILG reiterated that local governments are bereft of authority to grant water and sanitation franchise.

Undersecretary Austere A. Panadero cited Presidential Decree 1076 or the Water Code of the Philippines as the law that “governs ownership, appropriation, utilization, exploitation, development, conversation and protection of water resources.”

Despite the varying legal opinions, the Sangguniang Panlungsod recenlty approved the water distribution franchise of the Villar-led Prime Water Infrastructure Corp on Dec. 11, 2018.

This resulted in Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD) filing charges against the city government.

MIWD questioned the SP’s power to grant franchise, citing that the privilege, authority or license with respect to use, utilization and development of water resources, can only be exercised by the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) under the Water Code of the Philippines.

Prime Water, which is one of the bulk water suppliers MIWD, followed the move of South Balibago Resources Inc. (SBRI), which is now operating a water system in Jaro district.

To recall, the approval of SBRI’s franchise also prompted MIWD to file two cases against the firm and the government.

The first is the case against the city government and SBRI that seeks to nullify the franchise ordinance; second is the case against SBRI and the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) to revoke the certificate of public convenience that the latter granted to the former.