TWO mayoral candidates yesterday told Cebu City residents they will prioritize programs to mitigate effects of climate change, address the water supply shortage and other environmental issues, if elected.

Former senator John Henry “Sonny” Osmeña and former mayor Alvin Garcia also want to address the “problems” caused by the South Road Properties (SRP) and look at the City’s loan obligations and how these have affected the delivery of basic services.

Sonny and Garcia criticized the city officials for using the proceeds of SRP lots for their “doleouts” to some sectors, instead of using it to pay the foreign loans to reduce the City’s obligation.

Click here for Election 2010 updates

Different sectors presented to the two mayoral bets their concerns yesterday and asked them to address these if they win in the May 10 elections.

During the mayoral candidates’ forum, Sonny and Alvin took turns in commenting on the poor state of the city’s water supply, its environment and the absence of a Cebu City Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro).

To address the dried-up water sources of the City, Garcia said he will put up two dams in the Mananga or Lusaran watershed if elected, so rainwater can be collected during the rainy season, which can be released to the areas where there is no water during the dry months.

“If we have P13 billion to spend, let us not spend it on a reclamation project. Let us spend it on the primary problem of the City, which is water. If I am elected mayor, God forbid, the second thing I will do is address the problem of environment, of which water is the main concern. That to me is the urgent problem of the City, not reclamation, but water for our people. Environment in Cebu is badly neglected,” said Sonny.

On the concerns of the occupants of Province-owned lots in the City, Sonny said he will expropriate the Capitol properties so the occupants will have security of tenure, while Garcia believes that the best solution is “to talk with Governor Garcia and not to quarrel with her.”

Garcia and Sonny laid down their plans to address the concerns of different sectors during the “Pinili-ay sa Sugbo 2010: A Local Candidates’ Forum” organized by Kaabag sa Sugbo, a network of nongovernment organizations (NGOs), at the University of San Carlos (USC) yesterday afternoon.

The youth, children, urban poor, women and other sectors and environment advocates raised their concerns to the mayoral bets and asked them how they will address these if elected.

Sonny is running as an independent candidate while Garcia is the standard-bearer of the local opposition Kugi Uswag Sugbo (Kusug).

Vice Mayor Michael Rama and Georgia Osmeña did not attend the activity. Rama told organizers that he had prior commitments while Georgia said she had to undergo a surgical procedure.

The environment sector asked the candidates to create the Cenro, which shall act as an overseer for the planning, implementation, management, monitoring and evaluation of programs, services, projects and activities pertaining to the environment.

Both Sonny and Garcia committed to create the Cenro, and criticized City Hall for not having the office yet, amid the wide range of environmental problems besetting the City.

In helping mitigate the effects of climate change, Sonny said he will embark on a City Government-financed or subsidized program to make all public transportation use non-polluting fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas.

This, he said, will directly minimize the carbon dioxide introduced to the environment, a lot of which comes from cars, jeepneys and buses.

Garcia said he will focus on educating the public on what climate change is about and how they can help mitigate it.

On the SRP, Garcia said he will create a panel of real estate, banking and finance experts to assess whether the City can afford to pay its annual loan obligations from the sale of SRP lots, without compromising the delivery of basic services.

He said the SRP has caused the City a lot of problems, including the ballooning debts that resulted in increases in tax assessments and fees.

Worse, he said, the delivery of basic services has diminished because of the City’s loan obligations.

“Let’s find out if it is really worth holding on to the SRP or we have to sell it considering the basic services we have not given to our constituents—road repairs, hospital services. If we can’t afford it, let us let it go,” said Garcia.

By “let it go,” he said he means that the City should sell it all at once, or sell a certain portion right away. “What is important is that the budget for the basic services will not be diminished because of the loan obligations.” (LCR)