ILLEGALITY is supposedly the issue in the furor over solicitations of bottled water for people invited to Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama's state-of-the-city address on July 1 and pieces of bread fed to City Hall's independence day celebrants last June 12.

But how much of an issue is it? Councilor Sisinio Andales brought it up in the City Council. But surely it's not the kind that excites graft busters.

Andales obviously had another motive: to show that the city must be so cash-strapped it had to ask for freebies. The move reeks of politics: not surprising in this season when each group sniffs for what stinks in the rival camp, though not irrelevant to the public-interest question whether the city is broke.

Soliciting goods for public functions, to be consumed by attendees, is hardly viewed as criminal.

The materials don't go to the public official, aren't for a private purpose, and don't harass donors who don't mind giving away samples to promote their products and get City Hall's good graces as well.

Both Mayor Michael Rama and former mayor Tomas Osmeña don't hide their habit of tapping friendly sources for public, perhaps even private, purposes.

Rama said on radio, "I have a list (of people I ask from)." When Tomas was mayor, he also depended on benefactors purportedly to boost city services.


Public officials won't own up solicitations for election campaign or, say, private trips abroad. But it's common practice among them to ask their friends for what bureaucracy can't promptly provide. Water and bread? No skin off businessmen's noses.

Politics has a lot to do with the controversy. Competing for votes is the name of the game.

But Andales's story of larceny has produced subplots, like alleged forgery of signatures or possible cover-up: the stuff of true crime.