By JOEY NACALABAN
A CITY HALL official yesterday urged lawyer James Judith to test his assertion that Mayor Oscar Moreno has the authority to remove the directors of the Cagayan de Oro Water District as he pleases, in court.
City hall spokesperson Maricel Rivera said this even as COWD chairman Eduardo Montalvan laughed off the two bases Judith cited to assert that Moreno can order the dismissal of the entire COWD board, saying none of the two were applicable to the Cagayan de Oro situation.
Judith earlier called on Moreno to dismiss members of the utility’s board over the 2017 joint venture agreement between Metro Pacific Water Investments Corp. and COWD. He is lawyering for councilors Teodulfo Lao Jr., Enrico Salcedo and Reuben Daba who have asked the Philippine Competition Commission to void the 2017 agreement which they said was made against the interests of the city’s water consumers.
Members of the COWD board, chaired by Montalvan, are lawyer Mateo Delegencia, former provincial board member Soc Anthony del Rosario, Concepcion Quiblat and Dr. Hilly Roa Quiaoit.
Rivera said Judith may test the soundness of his arguments and position in court.
“If Judith thinks he is in the right track, then let him file the case. We will respond to it in court,” she said.
Montalvan said he disagreed with Judith who cited Iloilo Mayor Jose Espinosa III’s cautionary/cease and desist notice in December 2017 against five members of the board of the Metro Iloilo Water District, saying it was “very much different from the issue” in Cagayan de Oro.
He said the mayor did not recognize the appointment of the water district directors by Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr. and so, he ordered them to cease and desist from serving as directors.
“Sa akong pagbasa sa giingon niya (Judith), nagsugod man lang to sa away sa mayor ug gobernador. Wala giila sa mayor ang appointed nga mga directors sa gobernador. Pastilan, haskang layoa,” Montalvan said.
He said it is clear in Presidential Decree 198 that local chief executives, after appointing members of the board of directors of water districts, have no power to remove them.
“We can only be removed by the ombudsman. That is why as I have said they can file an appropriate case if they have problems with us,” Montalvan said.
He said he also disagreed with Judith’s view that a 1999 Supreme Court ruling was applicable to the COWD and Moreno.
On Wednesday, Judith said the SC, in its 1999 decision (Aguirre v de Castro, GR 127631), stated that “Absent any contrary statutory provision, the power to appoint carries with it the power to remove or to discipline.” That, he said, means that since the mayor appointed the COWD directors, then he can also remove them if he wishes.
In the Dec. 17, 1999 ruling on the case between the city legal officer of Manila and the chief of the Legal Affairs and Complaint Services of the Division of City Schools of Manila, the SC said the regional director of the education department may discipline or remove the city schools division official because the former appointed the latter.
Montalvan however argued that in the Aguirre versus de Castro case, the SC decision merely resolved a question on the Manila city legal officer’s jurisdiction to investigate the complaint for grave misconduct filed against the schools division official, and it had nothing to do with water utilities.