Water Problem in Corella, Bohol, Philippines

Like Cortes town, Corella did not agree with water compensation paid by service provider. Now, it is digging the dirt against the water deal with Bohol Water Utilities, Inc. (BWUI), which is extracting water resources in its back yard with a very low price tag.

After Cortes town annulled similar Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) over alleged "unfair" water transaction, BWUI is facing yet another legal battle over the same deal. This is aside from another case to be elevated to the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) by city government over the water bill collection that retroacts in 2006.

Sensing that the MOA is disadvantageous to townsfolk all these years, Corella officials filed Civil Case No. 7939 for "Declaration of Nullity of Memorandum of Agreement and Damages" before the Regional Trial Court based here.

Named respondents is the BWUI represented by Mr. Romeo G. Robles, senior manager in the said case filed by the Municipality of Corella through Mayor Jose Nicanor Tocmo, Felix Salang, Onesimo Anong and Domingo Curayag.

In their eight page complaint, the plaintiffs asked the court to declare the said MOA as "null and void and of no further force and effect." They also prayed for the court to order the defendants to pay "deficiency" amount of "P1.25/ cu.m. on the amount of water extracted from the six wells since January 2003 up to the present" and to pay the reimbursement of P300,000 and P2,000 for every appearance of its counsel in the hearings. Atty. Antonio Arabejo of the Arabejo and Mar Law Firm assisted the complainants.

Mayor Tocmo is authorized by the Sangguniang Bayan to proceed with the filing of the said case by virtue of the Municipal Resolution No. 2011-28.

The Resolution pointed out to get the fair share of the town contrary to the MOA. "The extraction/royalty fee paid by BWUI is grossly minimal in the amount of P0.25 per cubic meter which is way below the P1.50 per cubic meter as provided in section 3.b of Municipal Ordinance No. C-013 of Corella, Bohol."

The Resolution also accused BWUI of not providing an environmental guarantee fund to answer for the conservation and sustainability as a result of the underground water extraction.

Corella-BWUI MOA void?

The MOA disputed by the Corella allows the respondent to establish five pumping stations and facilities in this town in connection with its rights to extract underground water.

It also provides that "BWUI shall pay the Municipality (Corella) as a royalty fee of P0.25 /cu. M. For water being extracted less the free water to the municipality from existing five deep wells of BWUI beginning upon the effectivity of this agreement."

Aside from this term, BWUI will also provide free water supply of not exceeding 15,000 cu m. And in excess of this volume, the town shall pay the former and amount of P15/ cu. M. The MOA took effect on January 1, 2003.

According to the complaint, then Mayor and now Vice-Mayor Vito Rapal entered into the said MOA with BWUI on September 17, 2004, more than a year already following the approval and enactment (on March 17, 2003) of Mun. Ordinance No. C-013, imposing a royalty fee of not less than P1.50/cu.m.

The said agreement is contrary to the aforesaid Ordinance, the complainants stressed. Thus, the SB of Corella passed the following year (2005) Resolution No. 71-05 declaring the said agreement "to be null and void."

The same MOA "has no concurrence of the Sangguniang Bayan of Corella," said the complainants. Under the Local Government Code, local chief executive must secure prior authority to enter into all agreements in the form of a MOA and other similar instrument of contracts.

The complainants also alleged that the said MOA did not provide P2 million as guarantee fund for development of watershed in the area near and around the pumping units.

As a consequence, "The Municipality of Corella is continually suffering the degradation of its natural water resources as the establishment of the watershed in the area is stalled by the non-compliance of the defendant to tender the agreed amount intended thereto."

Rapal and Hamelito A. Quiokeles, vice-president for utilities of BWUI, affixed their signatures to the said six-page MOA as verified by Atty. Artemio C. Villas on Sept. 17, 2004.

BWUI's reply

BWUI senior manager Romeo G. Robles, in his formal letter dated November 6, 2010 to Mayor Tocmo, disputed Corella's contention that the MOA is inequitable and disadvantageous to the municipality.

BWUI insisted that the MOA "is still valid, effective and enforceable." The water company stressed that declaring the MOA as invalid by Corella lawmakers in improper since it is only the court "with proper jurisdiction can declare a contract or any of its stipulations or agreements as null and void."

But BWUI admitted that the MOA "may not have been formally concurred by the Sangguniang Bayan" and said why the lawmakers did not bother to question or "disturbed" it (MOA) for past six years.

"We could rightfully claim that there is nothing wrong or inequitable, as to the adjustment of the royalty fee to P0.25/cu.m. from old wells and P0.50/cu.m. from new wells of water extracted. The MOA therefore is consistent and in harmony with Municipal Ordinance No. C-013."

Cortes-BWUI MOA

In Cortes town recently, Sangguniang Bayan presided over by Vice-Mayor Danilo Montero passed a Resolution that dealt blow to water deal between this municipality and BWUI to provide Tagbilaran City residents with potable water to be drilled from Ohan Spring in barangay New Lourdes.

The Resolution, sponsored by Kagawad Lynn Iven P. Lim, has rescinded the "authority given to the Municipal Mayor Engr. Apolinaria H. Balistoy, Ph. D. to enter into a MOA with BWUI."

What prompted the SB members to revoke the said authority was the mere failure of the mayor to submit the draft MOA as she promised, said Montero. Montero and the six councilors voting to nullify the said authority wanted very much the copy of the draft MOA so that they can study and scrutinize it and be able to propose counter proposals.

He said they have been waiting for it (hard copy of the MOA) for so long since they approved the said authority last year, but to no avail until they only learned that the MOA is already signed by Mayor Balistoy without them knowing.

Montero's and the six councillors, however, did not say what are the conditions they wanted in the MOA.

Cortes SB wanted a higher price of the water to be extracted from Ohan Spring, barangau New Lourdes, Cortes since the proposed price tag is PhP0.25/cubic meter. Montero said the water deal is "disadvantageous" to Cortes.(RVO)