Water Rate Hike Stoppage Sought

Article excerpt

MANILA, Philippines - A partylist lawmaker has formally petitioned the Commission on Audit (COA) to stop the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and its two water concessionaires from increasing water rates this year, saying that lack of public hearing makes the increase "unfair and unlawful." Bagong Henerasyon partylist Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy aired her appeal in a letter sent to CoA Chairperson Ma. Gracia Pulido Tan and key officials of the audit agency before Christmas last month. In her request, Herrera-Dy stressed that the issuance of a status quo (ante) order against the water distributors will force them to cease and desist from increasing water rates. The party-list solon has been contesting the rate adjustments which are set to be implemented starting this month despite the absence of a public hearing. If water service cost increases have already been imposed, Herrera-Dy said the CoA must "restore and maintain the situation prior to such rate hike." "A status quo or status quo ante order may be issued by the Chairperson of the Honorable Commission, because such order is incidental to or a necessary power to the constitutionally reposed omnibus audit powers of the CoA," she pointed out. In response to Herrera-Dy's appeal last September, the state audit agency has initiated an omnibus audit of the water concession system being carried out by the MWSS, the MWSS-Regulatory Office and the two private concessionaires - Maynilad Water Services, Inc. (MWSI) and the Manila Water Company (MWC). Herrera-Dy said subject of the call for omnibus audit are the serious irregularities in the implementation of the concession agreement between MWSS and the two private water firms that have led to the imposition of excessive water rates and "illegal, excessive, extravagant" public expenditures and use of government property. Acting with dispatch, Pulido Tan referred Herrera-Dy's request to CoA Commissioner Heidi L. Mendoza who assigned the case to Directors Divinia M. Alagon and Leonor D. Boado. Shortly after MWSI and MWC announced on December their planned adjustment of water rates, Herrera-Dy sent the urgent letter request for a status quo ante order, saying that CoA has the power to issue such directive which is "incidental to or a necessary power to the constitutionally reposed omnibus audit powers" of the agency. "In the exercise of its constitutionally reposed quasi-judicial powers and omnibus auditing powers, the Honorable Commission may issue a status quo or status quo ante order ex parte, requiring no prior hearing and notice pursuant to administrative due process doctrine and case law," the former Quezon City councilor noted. …