Malilong: Borrowing billions for a trash transfer station

THAT huge piece of land, now known as the South Road Properties (SRP), did not grow by itself. Tons of rock and other filling materials were poured onto the sea to build it. The process cost money; the Cebu City Government borrowed the equivalent of P5.3 billion pesos from the old Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) to finance it.

Cebu City residents have already paid P5.6 billion as of last year, then Mayor Michael Rama claimed, and still we stood to pay P1.15 billion more between now and 2025, when the whole obligation matures, in interest charges alone. Rama wanted to pay the loan before its due date, using the proceeds of the sale of portions of the SRP to three of the country’s home-grown corporate giants for the purpose, thinking that the move could spare us from the huge interest payments.

But the city council would have none of it and neither would a former city prosecutor, who filed a case against the city, to prevent its officials from touching the money. And besides, according to the Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK), we would still have to pay the interest up to 2025 anyway, regardless of we pay the loan now or later.

Mayor Tomas Osmeña can rightly claim credit for the SRP. The idea of building land from the sea on the southern tip of the city may not have been his originally but it was he who almost single-handedly pursued it, negotiating with the OECF and securing approval of the project from the gods in Manila, among many other things.

Osmeña had a vision in reclaiming the sea, that much you have to concede even if grudgingly. I seriously doubt, though, if that vision included converting even a very small part of the valuable tract of land, built from a loan that we still have to fully pay, as receptacle for the city’s garbage.

But it’s just a transfer station not a dump, Roberto Cabarrubias, the city’s garage czar, insists. Well, I have news for him.

There is a law that regulates the operation of garbage transfer stations. It is Section 25 of Republic Act No. 9003, otherwise known as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 200 and it says: “Transfer stations shall be designed and operated for efficient waste handling capacity and in compliance with environmental standards and guidelines set pursuant to this Act and other regulations: Provided, that no waste shall be stored in such station beyond twenty-four (24) hours.”

And then it adds: “The siting of the transfer station shall consider the land use plan,” among others.

Unless, the law has been amended, let me ask Cabarrubias: Can you guarantee that no waste shall be stored in the SRP beyond twenty-four hours?

And let me ask Osmeña: When you built the SRP, did you at anytime envision it as garbage dump or temporary landing facility? Did you borrow money and go through so much trouble to pursue your dream of creating a city within the city so you can have a ready and available space for trash when the need arose? What is the land use plan for the SRP?

The mayor cannot even claim that the Court of Appeals decision shutting down the Inawayan landfill caught him by surprise. The case filed by Councilor Joel Garganera had been pending for months and he should already have prepared a contingency plan , unless the SRP was his contingency plan.

Osmeña did not want Rama to sell the SRP through a public bidding. And when Rama outwitted BOPK councilors by securing the passage of a resolution authorizing him to dispose of the property when the latter were not looking, Osmeña must have tried to persuade Ayala, SM and Filinvest to boycott the bidding but failed.

It looks they are now being made to pay for their hardheadedness. That, my friends, is the story of the transfer station.

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