CDO councilors want to sue water district for contempt over rate hike

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/22 February) – City councilors, during their session Tuesday, have decided to file contempt charges against the Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD) for allegedly pushing through with its rate hike despite a preliminary injunction issued by the court.

In his special report, Councilor Alden Bacal said he has continuously received a number of complaints on what he called as “exorbitant rates” of the COWD even when “City Hall has already secured a certiorari order from the Regional Trial Court Branch 38.”

Showing his colleagues three official billings from complainants, Bacal pointed out that the water facility charged the new rate of P218.40 for minimum residential use of 10 cu.m. instead of P168.

“They really implemented the increase in their billing. They should not implement an increase while this is under litigation,” Bacal said.

On September 1, 2011, COWD implemented 25 percent of its proposed 30-percent increase while the remaining five percent of their rate hike took effect last December.

Consequently, Bacal added, the Sangguniang Panlungsod passed an ordinance which instructed the City Legal Office to file legal action to hold the COWD from implementing the rate increase.

“The RTC Branch 38 had already issued a temporary restraining order on the increase. When the court-issued TRO expired, the city government posted a bond and filed for a preliminary injunction. We’re waiting for the writ of injunction,” he reminded his colleagues.

A lawyer by profession, Councilor Edgar Cabanlas said that a “temporary restraining order is only effective for only 20 days, then it automatically dissolves.”

“But when the city government posted bond for an injunction, this is enforced in the duration of the case or until the COWD rate hike is still under litigation,” Cabanlas said.

Councilor Adrian Barba, also a lawyer, said that COWD also charged him with the increased rate.

“There was no reading for the month of December, yet I was surprised to see my water bill rise to more than a thousand pesos. In the last five years, our household only had an average monthly billing of P600 to P800,” said Barba.

For his part, Councilor Ramon Tabor, yet another lawyer, said the receipts and the testimony of colleague Barba is “clear evidence” that COWD has indeed implemented the 30-percent rate hike.

Visibly irked, Councilor Alvin Calingin said that it is high time “to teach these people a lesson not to play around with this government and its laws.”

Calingin also said that COWD, if it has collected large amounts because of the rate hike which is supposed to be on hold, may be liable for “grand estafa.”

“This is like estafa. At the proper time, I will file a resolution instructing our legal office to file an estafa case against COWD,” said Calingin.

However, COWD spokesperson Ladele Sagrado said the increase in the monthly water bill will remain in effect until the court issues a writ of preliminary injunction. “So far there is no order from the court yet,” she added. (Cong B. Corrales / MindaNews)