BWUI-Cortes water deal sparks controversy
It’s not dead in the water.
Officials of the Municipality of Cortes and Bohol Water Utilities Inc. (BWUI) are open to a dialogue to keep alive the water deal that has been scuttled by the municipal government a year ago due to political infighting.
In separate interviews, Cortes Acting-Mayor Danilo Montero and Engr. Romeo Robles, BWUI general manager, both expressed willingness to save an agreement for the water utility company to tap the Ohan Spring in Barangay New Lourdes as new source for the growing consumers of BWUI.
It may be recalled that in July last year, the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Cortes, then led by Montero, adopted a resolution revoking the authority it granted to Mayor Apolinaria Balistoy to enter into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with BWUI for the water extraction deal.
The issue turned dormant until recently when BWUI requested New Lourdes Barangay Captain Cresenciano Cepe that they be allowed to conduct a public presentation with barangay residents as compliance to one of the requirements in their application for an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Cepe, in a separate interview, said he replied to BWUI’s letter-request, saying that the barangay council cannot allow the utility firm to conduct said public presentation citing the revocation of the MOA signed by Balistoy and the private company.
Balistoy, who had left the reins of the municipal government to Montero since May this year, has not yet returned from her official leave of absence and could not be reached for comment on the matter. According to Montero, his designation as officer-in-charge (OIC) is automatically extended until such time the mayor returns.
Montero said investors and developers are welcome in Cortes. Hence, he is not against BWUI’s plan to tap into one of the town’s water resources as long as it is correctly understood by the people, undergoes the processes required by law, environmentally sound and would economically benefit the town.
“The revocation of the MOA was our (SB) objection to the lack of transparency in the process. Balistoy signed the MOA without first consulting the SB and the barangay of the provisions of the agreement. There was no public consultation,” said Montero.
One of the contentious issues questioned by those who disputed the MOA is the purchase rate of 30-centavos per cubic meter to be paid by BWUI to the municipal government, which they view as “disadvantageous”. Cortes officials want the rate increased to 50-centavos per cubic meter.
“As long as BWUI will not bypass the processes, we welcome them again to negotiate with us - the SB, barangay New Lourdes officials and the public,” the acting-mayor added.
In the interview, Robles denied their company had been notified of the revocation nor was there any opposition to their request for a public presentation in New Lourdes.
“Only the courts can rescind the MOA, it has been executed and only an express agreement between the parties of the MOA can nullify the agreement,” Robles explained.
Robles refuted claims by Montero and Cepe that there was no consultation and transparency in coming up with the MOA.
“We made two presentations to the mayor (Balistoy), the municipal government’s executive committee and the SB members before we were able to formulate our proposal and eventually the terms of the MOA which was submitted to the mayor (Balistoy) for her signature. As far as BWUI is concerned, the MOA is authorized and approved. It stands,” Robles stressed.
However, when asked if they will insist on implementing their water rights in Omhon Spring, which the private utility company inherited from the former Provincial Public Utilities Department (PPUD), Robles said they are obliged to settle the issues with local officials first before proceeding with any construction activities at the project site.
Cepe, in the interview, said barangay folks and fellow officials were offended after hearing that BWUI has cited in their notice for presentation details of the project design after they have been, all the while, entertaining ideas to instead tap the tourism potential of Omhon Spring.
Robles added that if Balistoy and the SB had required their company to conduct a consultation with the barangay during the negotiation stage, they would have willingly complied. But no such condition was requested from them.
BWUI will not be able to meet the increasing consumption in their service areas unless a new source, aside from their existing groundwater wells in Tagbilaran and Corella, is tapped within the next two years, according to Robles.
The BWUI executive said they welcome the offer made by Montero that a joint session be called by the municipal council and the barangay officials of New Lourdes for the purpose, together with BWUI officials.