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RTC upholds dismissal of complaint vs. Baciwa

BY ADRIAN P. NEMES III

The Regional Trial Court Branch 45 upheld its earlier decision dismissing the petition filed by the group of Councilor Wilson Gamboa for a declaratory relief and declaration of nullity of the joint venture agreement (JVA) between the Bacolod City Water District and Prime Water Infrastructure Corp.

The ruling, penned by Judge Phoebe Gargantiel-Balbin on January 13, a copy of which was obtained by the DAILY STAR yesterday, reiterated its earlier ruling that the petitioners are not parties to the JVA contract.

This is the reason why they have no personality to file action nullifying the agreement between the two entities and that the contract will neither cause prejudice nor is detrimental to their rights, Gargantiel-Balbin said.

Moreover, one of the reliefs prayed for is for the court to order the Local Water Utilities Administration, that was not named one of the respondents, to review the JVA as part of its regulatory function, she said.

The court, in its earlier decision, highlighted one of the six requisites for declaratory relief, which is that “adequate relief is not available through other means or other forms of action.”

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.

Which means that if a case is such that its determination requires expertise, specialized training, and knowledge of administrative body, relief must be obtained in an administrative proceeding before resort to courts is had even if the matter may well be within their proper jurisdiction, Gargantiel-Balbin said.

In the petition filed last year, the petitioners alleged that the terms and the validity of Baciwa Board Resolution no. 115, series of 2019 that led to the JVA are doubtful and require judicial construction because it was passed without the proper quorum.

PrimeWater, in its comment on the petition filed against the JVA, said the petitioners have no legal standing to question the agreement, failed to show that their petition calls for judicial construction of any specific terms, there was already a breach of document in question, and there is no justifiable controversy surrounding the accord that was entered into in July last year.

Lorendo Dilag, chairman of the Baciwa Board, had earlier said that PrimeWater will infuse a total of P6.8 billion in terms of projects for the water utility firm.

Of that amount, P1.6 billion will be spent for pipe laying and repair in the next five years, P2 billion will be spent again after that, and the rest will be poured in until the 25th year of the JVA.

Dilag claimed that the JVA was practical, necessary, and beneficial for Bacolod because Baciwa has no financial capacity on its own to fund an expansion project that will answer the need for additional water supply of consumers. However, Gamboa said they will not stop and will elevate the case to the Court of Appeals, adding that they are now preparing the documents for submission next week.*

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