Friday, August 06, 2021

Malilong: A little too late?

The other side

I AM happy to report that my water supply has vastly improved since the summer. It used to be non-existent. Now, it is few and far between. Oh, water service, sometimes you’re good, most of the time you’re normal!


Former Cebu City mayor Michael Rama must have had grand plans when he sold some 46 hectares of the South Road Properties to three of the country’s largest land developers. He never got to spend even a single centavo of the more than P8 billion downpayment, however. The man he beat for the Cebu City mayorship in 2013 made sure of that.

Mayor Edgardo Labella beat the same man in last May’s election. Can ex-mayor Tomas Osmeña pull it off again this time and prevent Labella from using the immense wealth that the city has been sitting on for four years?

Last Monday, Osmeña filed suit to do just that. Through his lawyer, the former mayor asked the court to issue an injunction against the use of the funds for any purpose because they were the fruits of an illegal transaction. For good measure, his lawyer warned Labella, the councilors and other city officials that they will be held liable in the event that the court would eventually void the sale.

If the court would void the sale. That is the big question. Osmeña did not need a court declaration to thwart Rama’s plans in 2015. The numerical superiority of his allies in the City Council rendered court intervention unnecessary. They effectively tied Rama’s hands, absolutely rejecting any proposal to use the SRP money ostensibly out of respect for the court that was still hearing Romulo Torres’s petition.

Torres, a former city prosecutor, had assailed the SRP sale before the Cebu Regional Trial Court as a taxpayer using exactly the same arguments then raised by Osmeña why the transaction was legally flawed. Torres asked for an injunction but was rejected by the court, which eventually dismissed his case. The Court of Appeals sustained the dismissal.

The injunction that Torres failed to secure but which neverthless did not convince the council in 2015 to do what the court did not prevent them from doing is the same provisional remedy that Osmeña is seeking in his filing last Monday. He badly needs it now. Unlike during the term of Rama, he does not have a City Council that is willing to do anything at his bidding.

A writ of injunction is essentially preemptive. It cannot stop something that is already done. That is probably the reason behind the threat of Osmeña’s lawyer of the personal liability of city officials if they spend the SRP money. What he was in effect telling Labella, et al was: even if we do not secure the injunction, you should still not touch the money because we will be running after you once we get a favorable judgment in the main case.

It looks like the mayor and his allies did not hear him, however. Or if they did, they are not impressed, which is not surprising since many of them are also lawyers. Last Tuesday, the City Council approved the supplemental budget submitted by Labella amounting to P2.5 billion. As you must have guessed, the money will be taken from the proceeds of the SRP sale.

The irony here is that Osmeña had three full years of his term to do what he is now racing with time to do. Between 2016 and early 2019, he could have easily secured authority from his city council to sue SM and Ayala in behalf of the city on the same grounds that he raised in last Monday’s petition. As a private citizen now, does he have any better legal standing than what Torres had in 2015?


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