Seares: Can outgoing Cebu City Council tie hands of the incoming legislature?

News Sense

CEBU City Councilor Sisenio Andales pushed this week the fourth in a series of resolutions aimed to scuttle for good the 2015 sale of land in the South Road Properties (SRP) to a business consortium of SM Prime Holdings and Ayala Land Inc., along with Filinvest Land Inc. when the mayor was Michael Rama, the incoming vice mayor.

With barely half a month left before the new administration of Edgar Labella and Mike Rama will take over City Hall, the BOPK-dominated City Council approved the clutch of last-minute measures that seek to tell the public that:

[1] the sale of 45.3 hectares of South Road Properties land to the consortium was void for allegedly being underpriced, among other defects;

[2] the money paid for it as down payment shall not be spent by the City Government;

[3] the mayor’s compromise on the lawsuit filed by a taxpayer against the councilors to stop spending of the lots sale proceeds was valid; and

[4] any future sale of SRP lots cannot be made without the approval of the City Council.

Power in one

All that for single purpose of confining the power to decide the use and disposal of SRP land to only one person, Mayor Tomas Osmena.

But Tomas lost in the last election; Labella, current vice mayor who succeeds Tomas on June 30, will run City Hall. Tomas won’t hold any public office anymore but he controls BOPK whose councilors will dominate, 11 against 7, the city legislature. Unseated Osmena is expected to continue pulling the strings tied to each of his BOPK councilors from Guadalupe or wherever he may be by then.

But for what purpose will the slew of resolutions serve? And why ram them through the legislative mill now?

Rumor of defection

Tomas is still the mayor and the City Council is still BOPK-dominated. Things can happen between now and the next City Council: he might lose some BOPKs, at least three of whom are already rumored of having negotiated on terms of defection.

Two reelected BOPK councilors, Andales and Alvin Arcilla, were disqualified by Comelec for violating the three-term-limit rule. Their appeal may take forever or the next few weeks, depending upon the gnomes that skulk in the shadows of Comelec and the courts.

The series of legislative moves may be seen as buffer in case the tide changes at the City Council.

What cannot be done

Yet, how much good will the Andales moves do?

The incoming City Council may strike down the Andales resolutions, subject only to its House rules and contractual obligations to third parties. What it cannot and can do:

* It cannot declare the SRP lots sale to the Ayala-led consortium void. Only the courts can do that, since a contractual obligation to third parties is involved.

* It can tell the public the alleged flaws in the SRP land sale but the public itself cannot do anything except maybe protest on the streets or vote through the extraordinary remedy of initiative to decide for the City Council that the City Government will sue the buyers.

An initiative is circuitous and time-consuming. And Tomas does not need to seek that recourse because BOPK controls the City Council.

What he should’ve done once the balance of power in the council shifted to BOPK during his term was to authorize the mayor to sue and order the city attorney to litigate. Since 2016, when he defeated Mike Rama, Tomas had been tiptoeing around it, relying instead on taxpayer Romulo Torres’s lawsuit against the councilors. The RTC and Court of Appeals dumped the Torres petition and the outcome of the case is being used by Barug to justify its intent to spend the money.

Resources held hostage

However the courts will decide, resources for development--specifically the P8.3 billion of the P16.76 billion purchase price–is being held hostage by Osmena’s obsession to control the marketing of SRP.

It is likely to continue under the new administration.

The Cebu City public will be treated to the same spectacle that has been played at City Hall since 2013: a gridlock on development.

Poaching on BOPK

Even city residents who love checks and balances to work in local government have lost their patience. They would hate to watch the gridlock again. They would like to see things finally moving.

And Barug poaching on BOPK ranks might no longer look as bad as it did when Tomas led the poaching.


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