Malilong: Labella’s P16-billion bonanza

The Other Side

THERE are two things that lawyer Romulo Torres can do after he suffered a second straight setback in his attempt to overturn the sale in 2015 of a large portion of the South Road Properties (SRP) to three of the country’s largest developers. He can file a motion for reconsideration with the Court of Appeals (CA) and, when denied, go to the Supreme Court. Or he can concede that his case is doomed and quit.

In its story on the CA decision upholding a Cebu Regional Trial Court’s decision dismissing Torres’s complaint, SunStar Cebu reported that the lawyer had claimed that the City would drown in debt and basic services to him and other Cebu City residents would suffer as a result if the sale to the SM-Ayala consortium and Filinvest was not canceled.

I have not read the complaint but I trust that the SunStar report was and is accurate. So I am perplexed over how Torres had arrived at the drowning conclusion since the sale meant a one-time income of around P16 billion which the City could use to pay its largest debt which is the one owed to the Japan INternational Cooperation Agency (Jica) for the development of the SRP.

In fact, that was what then Mayor Michael Rama had in mind after he got the P8.35 billion downpayment for the sale but the BOPK-dominated City Council prohibited him from touching the funds. Unlike Rama, Mayor Tomas Osmeña could have easily gotten Council authority to spend the money but he refused to ask for it because he, like Torres, wanted the sale annulled.

In any case, the Court of Appeals saw the hollowness in Torres’s claim, dismissing it as a general statement which did not constitute a legal basis for him to sue. It was a polite way of saying the fears are imaginary so don’t waste the time and the resources of the judiciary in entertaining it.

We cannot predict how the Supreme Court would act on Torres’s petition should he decide to elevate it there, assuming that the CA does not reverse itself. But as practising lawyers know, it takes a really good, almost great, argument to convince the High Tribunal to overturn a decision by a lower, especially an appellate court.

We will soon find out how determined Torres or whoever are behind him in stopping the incoming mayor from gaining access to the P16 billion bonanza. Mayor-elect Edgardo Labella will only be too happy to use the money to pay the Jica debt in full and relieve the City of the obligation to pay the huge interest charges. The balance, which would be substantial, can fund his programs on basic services.

There is only one problem, the same that Rama faced in 2015: securing the approval of the City Council. The results of the last elections showed BOPK garnering nine of the 16 Council seats up for grabs. Add to that number the representatives from the Association of Barangay Councils and the Sangguniang Kabataan, you will immediately see the complete dominance of Osmeña’s allies and their capacity to torpedo Labella’s plans if they want to.

Given this scenario, Labella can only hope they will not want to. At least, not all the time. Or he can attempt what Osmeńa succeded in doing after he took over from Rama: convince enough number of councilors to switch alliances.

History does repeat itself.


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