Serge O and GMR-Megawide’s win

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Sunday, April 6, 2014


SEN. Sergio Osmeña III joined the Philippine Senate in 1995. Many Cebuanos had high hopes for him in politics. After all, he is the son of former Cebu political kingpin Sergio “Serging” Osmeña Jr., who fought toe-to-toe Ferdinand Marcos in the 1969 presidential elections, and grandson of Cebu’s Grand Old Man, former president Sergio Osmeña Sr.

Not only that, he was seen to have the intellect and the daring. Imprisoned in 1972 for the “crime” of being Serging’s son, he bolted prison in 1977 together with his cell mate, Eugenio Lopez Jr., later surfacing in the US. Osmeña was thus seen as early as in 1995 as a future presidentiable.

But expectations do not often tally with what reality unfurls. Osmeña gained respect in the Senate not because of any identifiable advocacy but for his largely passive approach to his legislative task. He treats his job like an ordinary “8 to 5” worker
would.

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Except, of course, when some issues fire him up, especially when these involve things that are, literally, close to his heart. Recent examples are his suddenly aggressive participation in issues involving power and the Mactan-Cebu International Airport
expansion project.

Osmeña is chairman of the Senate committee on energy even if he is the husband of a member of the Lopez clan which has a stake in Meralco.

He recently described President Noynoy Aquino as “hardheaded” and an “awful manager” partly because P-Noy refused to fire Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla. Incidentally, Petilla and the Department of Energy are currently tackling the questioned Meralco plan to hike power rates.

Using his being Cebuano even if he rarely stays in the province, the senator dipped his finger into the bidding for the Mactan airport project, attacking the highest bidder, GMR Airports of India and its local partner, Megawide. His tirades against GMR-Megawide may have been legitimate, but these serve the interest of Changi-Filinvest, the second highest bidder.

Interestingly, Serge’s brother Tomas Osmeña is known to be close to Filinvest, which entered into a joint venture with the Cebu City Government to develop a portion of the South Road Properties when he was still mayor.

Despite the multi-level attack (in the Senate, House of Representatives and the media) on the integrity of GMR-Megawide, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) eventually awarded the contract to the said consortium. That’s strike two against Serge—he failed to oust Petilla and now GMR-Megawide snagged the Mactan airport expansion contract.

A day before the DOTC’s Friday decision, the senator asked the Supreme Court (SC) to restrain the DOTC and the Mactan-Cebu Airport Authority from awarding the contract to GMR-Megawide. He will have to revisit that petition now that GMR-Megawide has been given the contract.

I agree with DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya about the need for government to respect the bidding process. “Otherwise,” Abaya said, “if you make the playing field in favor of somebody, no one will ever bid for the next project.”

Of course, critics of GMR-Megawide have all the right to go to court if they feel that their grievance was not sufficiently addressed by the DOTC. But I hope they would do so not for selfish ends but with the interest of the public and the country genuinely in their hearts and minds. That should go to the SC justices, as well.

The image of the country is at stake in this controversy. Potential investors from abroad will surely make the resolution of this issue to assess the integrity of the country’s bidding process.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 07, 2014.

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