Tipped scales

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Saturday, August 23, 2014


CEBU City Hall shelled out, on August 20, it’s 20th payment for South Road Properties (SRP). We were dunned P128.9 million for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) loan. Tack on P68.4 million for interest.

There’s 22 more such payments due, every August and Feburary--until 2025. Then- mayor Tomes Osmeña locked us into this fix. SRP is my “crown jewel,” Osmena crows. But ordinary taxpayers foot the bill.

Did not Osmeña declare in 1997 that Cebuanos would not pay a single centavo? National government would pick up the tab. It did not.
Now, we’re strapped with the country’s largest foreign debt repayment burden, the Commission on Audit notes. COA castigated Osmeña for “window dressing” the loan, by using obsolete exchange rates.

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The city council’s cowed silence extorted a cost. Poor nutrition results in three out of ten kids being underweight. Ill-fed mothers give birth to wizened kids.

How do we explain to our gradndkids Kristin, 10, and Katarina, 8, that they must shoulder bills they had no hand in crating? How will Osmeña tell that to his grandchild?

Basta, says Mayor Michael Rama. The city will take out a loan to settle the yen balance with Jica. This would shed stiff interest charges to more reasonable terms. This time, the mayor has the numbers to back him.

Four Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan councilors--Councilors Gerardo Carillo, Richard Osmeña, Roberto Cabarrubias and Noel Wenceslao–bolted. Osmeña shrugged off graft charges against his own men as “collateral” damage–while shielding his wife and favorites.

The four voted to authorize authorize Rama to sell SRP lots--and altered the math of Cebu governance. Sales of some SRP lots would bring to city coffers about P12 billion. A portion can pay off the balance of the Jica loan, Carillo explained.

Rama is being dishonest about the SRP loan, Osmeña fumed. Securing another loan is unwise, since current payments are longer. Sell five hectares per year instead and do it through an unsolicited proposal, rather then public bids.

SRP today remains a treeless semi-desert, so unlike tree-crowned Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. In three terms, Osmeña never had trees planted. Cebu is rocked, meanwhile, by arguments of razing of trees in street widening in the city and in Naga and Carcar.
“We do not want to be bogged down by point-by-point arguments,” said Mayor Rama. Cash speaks louder. “Owning land is good. But Cebuanos need the money today to meet current needs. A victor can afford be magnaimous. I don’t want to bicker with someone who used to be my mentor.”

“Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” the mysterious finger traced on King Belshazzar’s palace. “You have been weighed in the scales and found wanting.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 24, 2014.

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