By LITO RULONA
RIO Verde Water Consortium Inc. treated irrigation water and sold it to Cagayan de Oro, and a landslide that affected an irrigation canal in Bukidnon town factored in the December 2017 water crisis in the city, a National Irrigation Administration official has revealed.
The revelations came as the official responded to a complaint filed by a group of villagers in Baungon town pertaining to a 2013 agreement between Rio Verde and NIA.
The complaint was sent to Malacañang through Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco on Tuesday by former broadcaster and Surigao del Sur elections supervisor Ernie Palanan, a lawyer.
Leonila Tenestrante, NIA acting regional manager, said her office has a copy of Palanan’s group’s complaint. She denied that the Rio Verde-NIA contract was illegal, pointing out that the agreement was even given the go-ahead by the irrigation associations of Baungon town in Bukidnon.
But as Tenestrante denied the accusations made by Palanan’s group, she revealed exactly where Rio Verde sourced the water that it treated and sold to the Cagayan de Oro Water District.
“Tinuod nga gi-siphon sa Rio Verde ang tubig gikan sa among irrigation canals pero kini sobra or excess nga mga tubig,” Tenestrante said.
Rio Verde, a firm owned by Palawan Gov. Jose Alvarez, was the exclusive bulk water supplier of the COWD for about a decade until this January when a new player, Cagayan de Oro Bulkwater Inc. (Cobi), took over. Cobi however buys the water it sells to COWD from Rio Verde.
Tenestrante confirmed that NIA had sold raw water to Rio Verde for 13 centavos per cubic meter based on an agreement signed in 2013. It expired on Dec. 31, 2017, the same day Rio Verde and COWD terminated their decade-old contract.
She said 13-centavo price was the recommendation of NIA’s technical experts.
Tenestrante said Rio Verde siphoned 40 thousand cubic meters a day for processing in its plant in Pualas, Baungon. The firm paid P5,200 a day until 2016 when NIA raised the price from 13 centavos to 17 centavos per cubic meter.
“Wala pud mi kwestyon ngano mahal ilang baligya sa water district kay mi-agi naman sa ilang processing plant,” she said.
For years, Rio Verde had sold treated water to COWD for P10.45 per cubic meter. COWD then distributed this to western areas of the city and Opol town in Misamis Oriental. With a new supplier, the selling price to COWD shot up to over P16 per cubic meter last month although the increased cost was absorbed by the water district.
Tenestrante said supplying water to areas in need like Cagayan de Oro and nearby areas is part of NIA’s service “with consent from local IAs (irrigation associations).”
She explained that in Baungon, NIA is supposed to supply water to at least 2,000 hectares of ricefields but currently, only around 200 hectares are getting irrigation water. “Dako kaayo ang sobra or excess. Nag-change cropping na man gud ang mga farmers.”
When the Rio Verde-NIA agreement expired, the water supplier asked for a three-month extension or until March 31, 2018 because the firm needed to repair a damaged pipeline, according to Tenestrante.
She said Rio Verde’s request to NIA regional manager Ali Satol was forwarded to the NIA central office. Satol is currently on leave.
Tenestrante also revealed that a landslide that affected 80 meters of the main irrigation canal in Baungon disrupted the supply of irrigation water to Rio Verde on Dec. 22, 2017. It was the day tropical storm “Vinta” caused damages and adversely affected the water supply here after making its landfall in Davao Oriental.
“Mao nga pagkaguba sa ilang pipeline, diha na sila nagkuha sa suba nga dako kaayo ilang gasto kada adlaw,” she said.
The damaged pipeline is linked to the irrigation canal, she said.