The Bacolod City Council approved a resolution requesting the Office of the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice (DOJ) through the Office of President Rodrigo Duterte to check and review the joint venture contracts entered into by the Bacolod City Water District (Baciwa) with private concessionaires.

The resolution, authored by Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr., was approved by the council but I guess action was deferred due to the election campaign. Gamboa survived the Grupo Progreso tsunami of vote buying and probably will become the sole voice of the opposition in the council.

Gamboa, chairperson of the City Council committee on ways and means, said that “in the light of scarcity of water supply in the country, President Duterte has ordered the review of government’s deal with private water concessionaire to omit onerous provisions that put the public at a disadvantage.”

Gamboa cited the directive of President Duterte issued during the 36th Cabinet meeting held at Malacañang on April 1, 2019. He claimed that the President instructed all agencies especially the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice to check and review all contracts entered into with private water concessionaires and remove onerous provisions that might be detrimental to the lives of Filipinos.”

Reports also said that Claudio Salmo, president of Baciwa Employees Union, revealed that the Baciwa board has approved the unsolicited proposal of Prime Water for a 25-year joint venture contract. The joint venture contract involves the management and water distribution of Baciwa. In effect, the operation of Baciwa will be taken over by Prime Water with Baciwa merely a corporate owner.

Reports say the union is opposed to this joint venture as it is tantamount to privatization. That appears not so but we really don’t know the details of the venture and the union just keeps on saying they are opposed to privatization but has not shown the details that in truth constitute the change of the corporate structure of the water district.

Perhaps the water concessionaries of Bacolod will soon know but that is merely a wish. Everything comes in new by July 1 and we don’t know who will take the chairmanship of the important Ways and Means committee. Gamboa, being the lone opposition can be relegated to the backbench as the new set of councilors will decide who gets what committee chairmanship. 

The inquiry that Gamboa authored might be revived or left to rot. Of course, he has still a few sessions to convene his committee to pursue the inquiry but I doubt he will get anywhere. Baciwa has plenty of juicy issues and many councilors would like to recoup their election expenses or prepare for the next.

There is no report that the venture partner, Prime Water, will produce water but there are yet no specifics in the contract that can give us a clearer picture of what this partnership entails. The terms “management and distribution” are too broad. For instance, will management involve the separation or absorption of the present employees? Will the joint venture be a separate corporation from Baciwa? How will Baciwa be compensated? The issues are many and diverse.

I had received prior to the election adverse information about Prime Water and this has been verified. However, since the report has already been relayed to the National Water Resources Board, we will leave it at that since it involves a different water district. Surely, the NWRB shall have informed Baciwa of this report if it considered it necessary. Moreover, that is for that district to iron things out with Prime Water.

One of the problems that Baciwa faces is water supply. The national government has issued a warning about the rapid decline of this basic need. Some cities, as in Iloilo and in Metro Manila are bracing for rationing. I believe Bacolod will soon have an official rationing scheme. I said “official” because in truth there is forcible allocation of water.

I am not connected with Baciwa pipeline but concessionaires get their water on certain hours of the day or night. That in fact is rationing but the word is avoided because it is the truth. I don’t know if Baciwa has settled its dispute with its water supplier, Bacolod Bulk Water, but no matter, the water supply is still inadequate.

Perhaps Councilor Gamboa can pursue his resolution with the DOJ.