CEBU

Bzzzzz: 'Komusta ka na, mayor?' 'OK na,' Labella says, after 43 days of working from home, 'hiding not an option.' Juan Mercado, SRP debt.

SunStar File

CEBU City Mayor Edgardo Labella resumed reporting at his City Hall office Tuesday, March 9, cleared by his doctor for that and sent back to his regular duties but still advised to stay away from crowds.

But he could not keep away from his constituents, he told a press-con with City Hall reporters on his first day back to the proverbial salt mines.

"Hiding from the crowd is not an option," Mayor Labella said.

Staying home, away from the seat of the City Government and the crowd it draws was the "option" he took, on doctor's order, for 43 days that he spent working from home, counting from January 25, three days after he was hospitalized, until last March 9.

There are risks but he must take them, "unsaon nasulod man ta ani." He would just be careful, he said, apparently referring to the occasions when he must be with a crowd.

"Komusta imo health, Mayor?" a reporter asked.

Labella said, “OK na.” Followed by, as if to prove he was in good health, a story-telling about his "long meeting" with key people on the subject of "binignit," the local food people love to eat during Lent. Scramble of people at the Carbon market to buy ingredients for the delicacy was tagged among the super-spreaders that spiked the number of positive cases in Cebu City last year, leading to the enhanced quarantine.

Would he still work at home? No more, said the mayor. A Q-and-A that might be confused with deciding to drop everything related to City Government problems when he's at home. What he meant, the reporters must guess, was that he'd now do most of the work right at City Hall, not much from home.

Aside from that, nobody asked if his ear infection was gone, the nature of the ailment that required almost two months of virtual isolation and whether he had other bodily complaints: about which the reporters' audiences have been wondering, since that day when Vice Mayor Mike Rama challenged the mayor to tell the public the state of his health.

First day back in office and they talked about how to cope with the "binignit" problem: four marketing days for each cluster of 20 barangays (the city has 80 barangays) to buy those ingredients at Carbon.

Mayor's work backlog

Partly explaining why he had to work at City Hall, Labella told reporters he had lots of documents to sign, raising both his arms at a level higher than his neck: "Daghang trabaho, daghang pirmahan."

No reporter asked though about the more serious problems that were left unresolved during his work-from-home stint, such as:

[1] the allegations of usurpation of authority by an unelected and un-appointed man, from a city councilor, and of corruption by a "Cebu City Kurakot Gang," from a former undersecretary in the Dangerous Drugs Board and an anti-corruption advocate;

[2] how the P3.5-billion anti-Covid fund was being spent by the executive department and how he would respond to the repeated demands for liquidation from the City Council and their publication for "transparency and accountability"; or

[3] how the convenors of the City Council have been doing, as far as it relates to coordination between the mayor and vice mayor, which at one point was on the verge of a showdown.

The mayor had been silent about the Covid fund and alleged corruption issues, even when he was working from his residence.

P5-billion Land Bank loan offer

Among the few more serious topics, the reporters took up with Mayor Labella last Tuesday was the standby P5-billion loan offered by Land Bank of the Philippines to the City Government.

"The ball is now in the hands of the Sanggunian," which must decide what to do with the LBP offer.

Apparently, the mayor didn't know that in last week's special session of the City Council, it already decided on the bank offer: let the offer stay and wait when the City Government need arises.

VM Rama and some councilors drew this information from the bank representative: the offer has no deadline and will be there with the same terms when asked for.

Being high on City Hall collection

Mayor Labella had something to be glad about in his first press-con upon his City Hall return: the recognition by the National Government that Cebu City is doing well in its collection of local income.

The happy news: In 2020, despite the pandemic, the city's collection totaled P7.37 billion, short of the pre-pandemic target of P11 billion but bigger than each of the previous two years' collection minus the money from SRP lots sale.

Labella credited "honest-to-goodness" collection and assessment, praising City Treasurer OIC Ivy Reyes and City Assessor Noel Wenceslao on their performance.

He indicated there would be no tax increase in the rest of his term, saying that revenue could still increase through efficient collection.

Paying with loaned money

The City Council, or more particularly, the vice mayor is determined to pay the balance on the city's loan over the south reclamation project, now known as South Road Properties (SRP).

Mike Rama has been making the comment in City Council sessions, whenever the SRP topic comes up: The debt must be paid before the deadline for filing of COCs or certificates of candidacy on October 1 to 8. And he always talks of what then SunStar columnist Juan L. Mercado wrote about the city's loan and its burden on future generation of city taxpayers. "Magpatong-patong ang utang tungod sa interest," Rama would quote Mercado, then cite the original sum owed and the amount presently owed.

Clearly, the journalist's opinion has stuck in the vice mayor's mind. Also, he would want to make the loan an issue for him and his party: that they wiped out the gargantuan debt.

Rama wants the balance paid with the unspent amount from SRP lots sale proceeds in city coffers. Labella at the press-con implied that the City could borrow from the bank's standing offer and use it to pay the loan. The mayor said the bank loan interest, assuming he got the numbers right, is only two per cent while the interest on the SRP is 12 per cent.

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