Report by Andres Mapa
Commemorating a year of struggle against privatization, Baciwa Employees Union – NAFLU and Amlig Tubig Coalition trooped in front of the Baciwa district office earlier today, January 4, to hold a mass and an indignation rally.
Exactly one year ago, 59 illegally terminated employees of Bacolod Water District (Baciwa) were barred from entering the district office after being handed out their termination letters a few days prior.
The groups renewed their commitment to oppose the Primewater-led privatization of the water district and the impending 12% Value-Added Tax to be imposed on water consumers.
“We are not leaving. We will not give up. Today marks a year of fighting,” reads the statement of the Union.
It was on November 12 last year that the Baciwa board of directors gave into a joint-venture agreement with Villar-owned Primewater, which lends the operations to the private entity for the next 25 years.
Consequently, the water district employees were made to choose between applying for Primewater or accepting an early retirement plan, a move which the Union calls “utterly inappropriate, perhaps even illegal but certainly immoral” and seen as “little more than a bribe to entice government workers to end their public service.”
Refusing to give in to the deal, 59 regular government employees were illegally dismissed on the grounds of “redundancy.”
Since then, BEU-NAFLU and other concerned groups have staged numerous protests and filed petitions to pressure the local government to reinstate the employees.
An initial triumph was garnered when the Civil Service Commission Region VI released a resolution dated August 20 stating that the sacked employees shall be “entitled to full pay from the time of their separation until actual reinstatement.”
However, the Baciwa board of directors have yet to act upon the resolution and reinstate the sacked employees.
Presiding over the mass, Fr. Chris Gonzales, Social Action Director of Bacolod Diocese, expressed solidarity for the plight of the axed Baciwa employees and called for their immediate reinstatement.
Noli Rosales of Kilusang Mayo Uno and Anakpawis Party-list claimed that the Villars were ‘criminals’ for profiting over a basic human right, such as water.
Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr. also gave a solidarity message and challenged incumbent local government officials, particularly the City mayor, to speak up on the issue, as it concerns water consumers all over Bacolod.
Last December 4, Gamboa authored a resolution in Sanggunniang Panglungsod opposing the 12% VAT on water consumers through Primewater.
“Water is a God-given natural resource that should be utilized and preserved for the people, not a commodity to be profited from by vested interests,” says Leny Espina, President of Baciwa Employees Union.
To cap the mobilization, Vice President of Baciwa Employees Union Benjie Oray reiterates their commitment to continue with their struggle until justice is served.