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Group appeals RTC ruling on Baciwa case

BY ADRIAN P. NEMES III

Water consumers’ group, Amlig Tubig, has filed a motion for reconsideration before the Court of Appeals on the recent ruling of a Regional Trial Court that upheld the dismissal of their petition to nullify the Joint Venture Agreement between the Bacolod City Water District and Prime Water Infrastructure Corporation.

In their petition, a copy of which was obtained by the DAILY STAR yesterday, the group told the CA that they received a copy of the order of RTC Branch 45, dated Jan. 13, upholding its earlier decision to dismiss their complaint against the JVA for lack of jurisdiction and personality of the appellants.

Bacolod Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr., who is representing the group, said they are questioning the ruling of the RTC over the issue on the jurisdiction of the case.

RTC Branch 45 Judge Phoebe Gargantiel-Balbin explained that one of the reliefs prayed for by the group is for the court to order the Local Water Utilities Administration, that was not named as one of the respondents, to review the JVA as part of its regulatory function.

Gargantiel-Balbin said that under the doctrine of primary administrative jurisdiction, the courts cannot, and will not determine a controversy where the issue for resolution demands the sound exercise of administrative discretion requiring special knowledge, experience, and services of the administrative tribunal to determine technical and intricate matters of fact.

But Gamboa said the court may seek the opinion of experts and act on their complaint since the issue that they raised is about the agreement entered into by Baciwa and PrimeWater, while LWUA’s role is only to decide on water rights and concerns.

Gargantiel-Balbin said the petitioners are not parties to the JVA contract, which means that they have no personality to file action nullifying the agreement between the two entities, especially that the contract will cause neither prejudice nor be detrimental to their rights.

Gamboa claimed that the JVA is detrimental and is prejudicial not to their personal rights, but to the rights of every consumers of Baciwa, adding that, their complaint is not politically-motivated since their group is composed of progressive organizations and members of the Church. Baciwa and PrimeWater entered into a JVA in July last year where the latter will spend P6.8 billion for various projects in the next 25 years that includes pipe laying and repairs of waterlines.*

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