Councilors allow Prime Water to operate in Iloilo City

Bulk water supplier Prime Water Infrastructure, Inc. has been given the green light to operate in Iloilo City

The City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 11, approved an ordinance granting Prime Water a 25-year franchise to “construct, establish, commission, operate, and maintain a water supply system [in the metropolis].”

Eight councilors voted in favor of the ordinance. They were Plaridel Nava, Joshua Alim, Eduardo Penaredondo, R Leone Geroche, Candice Tupas, Leizl Zulueta-Salazar, Lyndon Acap, and Mandrie Malabor.

Only Councilor Armand Parcon opposed the move to grant the franchise to the new water player in the city.

Councilors Jay Trenas, Ely Estante and Lady Julie Grace Baronda, and ex-officio members Maria Irene Ong, and Leila Luntao abstained from voting.

The passage of the ordinance was recommended by the Council’s committee on public utilities chaired by Nava.

In his report, Nava cited Section 458 of Republic Act 8160 or the Local Government Code of 1991, which enumerates the power, duties, functions, and compensation of the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP).

Paragraph 3 (vii) states: “Upon approval by a majority vote of all the members of the SP: grant a franchise to any person, partnership, corporation, or cooperative to do business within the city.”

But Nava clarified that Prime Water still needs to secure other documents mandated by the law before it can start its operations.

“The subject franchise application is not water rights and do not replace the concept of ‘Water Permit’ under PD 1076,” he said.

According to Nava, the newly approved ordinance “does not exempt, in any way, Prime Water from compliance with the requirements of PD 1076.”

“As in fact, it clearly provided in paragraph 1.1, sub-paragraph (ix) that the National Water Resources Board (NWRC) will regulate the conduct of its (Prime Water) business and water rates and shall be subjected to the prior approval of the NWRB and not the local government unit,” he said.

Prime Water is a company owned by the Villar family.

In a report by the Philippine News Agency, Atty. Roy Villa, legal counsel of the Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD), said they would file charges against the SP.

“We are still thinking of where to file the cases but definitely we will be filing. We will now proceed with the criminal and administrative charges.”

Villa reiterated that the SP has no authority to grant a franchise to any firm interested to distribute water in the metropolis.

Presently, the city has two water distributors – MIWD and South Balibago Resources, Inc. (SBRI).

In 2016, the City Council approved an ordinance granting a franchise to SBRI.

SBRI is currently serving about 10,000 households and commercial establishments in Jaro district.

MIWD questioned the legality of SBRI’s franchise. The case is now pending in court.IMT