Leyte, Tacloban 'on speaking terms' amid water management row

THE Provincial Government of Leyte and the City Government of Tacloban remain on speaking terms amid the legal battles over the management of the Leyte Metropolitan Water District (LMWD), said Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla.

“As far as the mayor is concerned, we see each other from time to time. We talk. What is important is the action after talking,” said Petilla.

The governor assured that their camp will not resort to any violent action to resolve the deadlock between his appointed LMWD board of directors and the new appointees of Tacloban City Mayor Cristina Romualdez who assumed office in January this year.

“We have a strong economy, and we don’t want to be distracted by this,” Petilla told SunStar in an interview.

“We will respect the law because the law is the only thing that protects us from chaos. We have to sustain. Being the chief executive of Leyte, I should set [as] an example to my constituents that we should follow the law, otherwise the people will not also follow and we’ll have chaos,” said Petilla, adding that he is leaving the issue to the courts.

After the management row between the province and the city ensued, concessionaires are also faced with a dilemma on where to pay their water bills, as there are now two “main” offices of LMWD: the old one in Nulatula, Tacloban where Romualdez-backed officials are holding office and the newly-opened “main” office at Leyte Academic Center in the neighboring town of Palo managed by Petilla-backed officials.

But Petilla said that any collections “will go to the account of LMWD…”

“Nonetheless, if ano man yan, kung ang tao nag-bayad here or the other side, it should go to LMWD, and that the people should not be charged twice. It’s unfair (to the people). Problema ito ng LMWD,” he said.

He added that they will work on the collection problem after the water management issue will be resolved.

“I believe that every problem has a solution. But we have to work on that solution,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bernardita Valenzuela, a city-appointed LMWD board of director, maintained the legitimacy of their posts, citing the recent Supreme Court’s decision in Rama vs Moises case (G.R. No. 197146) and in accordance with Local Water Utilities Administration's (LWUA) mandate under Letter of Instructions 744 issued on September 28, 1978 as the “test case” of their appointments.

“How can an inferior court go against the decision of the Supreme Court?” asked Valenzuela.

As the Romualdez-backed board of directors' appointments were also confirmed by the LWUA through Administrator Jeci Lapus in an order dated February 20, 2018, Valenzuela said the LMWD row is already a non-issue.

In a separate interview, she also said that they are set to visit President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang over this situation.

“Out of 35,000 concessionaires, 30,000 paid to Nulatula and Mabini. And out of the 5,000, 3,000 did not pay at all, so 2,000 ang nakuha. Out of 409 employees, only 20 went with them. So 389 employees are with us,” Valenzuela said.

“…The LWUA administrator, he said, I can’t tell them to stop because I was not the one who appointed them, but it is the president who will call the governor,” she added.

Earlier, Valenzuela reported on the collection efficiency of the LMWD main office in Nulatula and in Mabini, saying that in March 1-20, the collection was already P19 million.

"Even the Provincial Government offices paid their water bills to us," she said.

The city-backed LMWD officials continue to assure of the water services in the resettlement areas in the northern barangays of Tacloban along with the rest of the municipalities covered by the water district. (SunStar Philippines)