This paper presents the beginning of a cooperative, an organization of consumers in Cagayan de Oro, to own and control the City's water distribution system legally and corporately known as the Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD). Since 1973, the COWD has been a government-owned-controlled-corporation (GOCC) of the City Government by virtue of Presidential Decree 198-1973 (all water districts should be owned by local Government units). Civil society in Cagayan de Oro has studied and presented an alternative -- to convert the GOCC-COWD into a genuine COOPERATIVE (Consumers-Owned and Controlled).
The idea to cooperative-ize COWD was first discussed in December of 2007 by a group of leaders from several NGOS, cooperatives as well as the business and professionals' sector in Cagayan de Oro. A study Committee was formed (with subcommittees) to study the economic, social, organizational, legal and technical feasibility of the conversion. The study committee's findings and analysis had shown disturbing things about COWD's governance and operations. Among other things, the Commission on Audit (COA) reports of COWD operations of 2005 and 2006, showed COWD to be highly profitable, but showed huge disbursements "without legal basis". Also, unaccounted water (or system's loss) in 2006 was a very high: 46% had increased to 60% in 2010. COWD loans had been increasing with interest expense increasing.
This questionable governance and operational inefficiencies have had unfavorable impacts for the consumers and the City -- higher water bills! Poor service! Insecurity of the water distribution system of the City! Inability or lack of will on the part of the City Government to solve the problems besetting COWD!
It has been two-and-half-years since the start of the crusade to present the cooperative alternative with a public ‘Manifesto" (with some 30,000 signatures) to the City Mayor and the City Council. Apparently, these initiatives have gone to "deaf ears". And so, the crusade has intensified its efforts by conducting "pulong-pulong" (public fora) with barangays (communities), NGOs, church-based groups. The responses have been very positive and encouraging. The two congressmen of Cagayan de Oro (Cong. Rufus Rodriguez and Cong. Rolando Uy) have indicated their support for cooperative-izing COWD.
On April 20, 2010, the Water Consumers Cooperative (WATERCCOOP) was born. However, the crusade will continue with formidable challenges ahead for the WATERCCOOP to realize its dream of owning and controlling the COWD.
Dr. Anselmo Mercado
Earsolin, Xavier University College of Agriculture
Cagayan de Oro