Disbanding the harem

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Saturday, August 30, 2014


Cebu City Vice-Mayor Edgardo Labella has a hard-earned reputation for keeping a level head. He is showing that now.

The city was rocked by four councilors, once stamp-pads for ex-city mayor Tomas Osmeña’s decisions, who bolted. The four backed Mayor Mike Rama’s plan to sell a slab of the South Road Properties (SRP), to meet pressing needs. Will more councilors quit what's been called "a harem of eunuchs"?

The defections altered the political geography of Cebu. A bruised Councilor Margarita Omeña sports a brave facade. She met “four members of Team Rama and asked: the caucus for majority and minority blocs be merged,” Sun.Star Cebu reported.

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Labella flagged well-taken caution. “I'd rather maintain the status quo....for transparency, accountability and public interest. If caucuses are merged, it's possible that issues, up for discussion will no longer be properly addressed during the regular session...The public, even media, will no longer know nitty-gritty of the issues...There is really no substitute for free flow of ideas.”

"What you hear in the dark, proclaim from the housetops," the Master once urged. We've had an overdose of--to swipe a Cebuano epithet--lutong makaw.

Manipulations, notably in the SRP, have scorched Cebuanos repeteadly.. Cebu City this month shelled out the 20th installment on repayments for the yen loan that funded SRP construction.

Mayor Rama is probing for ways to arrange for earlier settlement. Until then, those twice-a-year billings will run until 2025--and saddle our grandchildren with IOUs they never sought.

“You’ll not pay a single centavo” for this project, Osmeña assured Cebuanos in 1997. However, the first repayment bill came in 2005. From the first tranche released by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), Osmeña lopped off P60.9 milliom to pay--who? The JIBC. Money hocked from Tokyo paid off Tokyo--plus interest on the interest. The good mayor paid with the left hand what his right hand borrowed in taxpayers’ name.

Osmeña paints SRP as a panacea for all city financial ailments. Yet, in his report to JICA and Cebu City, Yashuhiro Kawabata of Sanshu Engineering Consultants “gave SRP an overall rating of D” for unsatisfactory performance, Sun.Star reported. “Achievements of the project’s objectives is extremely limited.

In between, Osmeña stomped on SRP discussions. A servile city council never asked tough questions. “When I was mayor, I didn’t have to sell (SRP) lots to pay the SRP debt,” said Osmeña, who was trounced in the last elections.

Excuse me, sir. You mean Cebuano taxpayers paid. You were their temporary steward--a good one you say, not the parable scoundrel. Inflation meanwhile ballooned the original two billion yen loan into six billion.

Osmeña never mentions the foreign debt burden of P60,654 on every Cebuano. Compare that to P44,548 for national IOUs. None of the 146 other cities is that deep in hock, the Commission on Audit notes.

This cripples capacity to address festering issues: earthquake-shattered Cebu City Medical Center, shoddy schools, strained health services to poisoned rivers. Only half of homes have piped water.

Idle SRP lots are a “liability,” warns Eleuterio Ong Vaño of the non-partisan Cebu Real Estate Brokers Association. Set aside political differences, use proceeds from SRP lot sales to ease today’s critical needs.

“Can the (Rama) administration fool the people all the time?” Osmeña asked. “Yes. Because they have strong media backing.” The press is an accomplice?

You can stop holding your breath. The harem of eunuchs is now crumbling.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 31, 2014.

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