Alarms raised on Malaybalay Water District – Prime Water deal, public hearing sought

The Malaybalay City Council is raising red flags against a Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) between the Malaybalay City Water District (MCWD) and Villar-owned Prime Water Corporation and is asking for MCWD officials to appear before the council.

In its August 18, 2020 regular session, the council passed a resolution enjoining the MCWD General Manager and Board of Directors Chairman to appear before the council on August 25, 2020 and present the terms of the JVA. The resolution also included a request for MCWD to first conduct a public hearing before the implementation of the said JVA.

Councilor Estelito Marabe, in his privilege speech, said that while it is everyone’s right to have access to “sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses, this should not be used as a tool by allowing Prime Water to systematically take over the operation of the MCWD.”

malaybalay water district

“Water service should not be considered as a commodity for it is a natural resource. Water service provider should not be considered a business for it is a public utility,” he said, adding that as a public utility, it is imbued with public interest.

“Let’s do due diligence on the Prime Water blitz, after all, the local government, including the city council, is duty-bound to protect the interests of consumers, to identify the flaws in existing agreements and to ensure that these are remedied moving forward.”

“There is no transparency when MCWD enters into a joint venture agreement with the private firm to improve its water supply and facilities. There were no public hearings that were being conducted and
the voices of the water consumers were not even heard,” Marabe said.

Marabe cited Section 03, (d) of the Presidential Executive Order No. 68, series of 1999, which states that (d) “the water district shall conduct a project presentation with public hearing for the purpose of determining the social and financial acceptability of the proposed project.”

He also mentioned Memorandum Circular No. 019719 of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) – which states that all water districts are hereby enjoined to strictly comply with the requirements of full public disclosure and project presentation with public hearing in the approval
process of the unsolicited proposals for joint venture submitted to them by private entities.

Marabe said they should include the water-consuming public in the discussion of the merits of the terms of reference and the provisions of the contract with Prime Water through the conduct of several
proper public hearings.

Meanwhile, former MCWD GM Juanito Aroa, together with his fellow Sawaga Movement officials Romulo Ongkiatco and Retired Judge Vivencio Estrada, first informed the city council about the JVA. The group clarified, however, that they have no copy of the said JVA, hence, the need for the public to know especially since, according to Aroa, the agreement was signed without public hearings.

Aroa added that the move aims for privatization under the guise of a JVA. He also disclosed that Prime Water will take over the operation of MCWD starting this coming October 1, 2020.

When sought for comment, MCWD Information Officer Goldy Huervas declined, citing “lack of authority.”

A quick online check reveals that Prime Water Infrastructure Corporation is led by Paolo Villar, brother of Secretary Mark Villar and son of Senator Cynthia Villar and former senator Manny Villar. (Report by Bukidnon Online special correspondent Mel B. Madera)

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