Wednesday, September 29, 2021

EXPLAINER: VM Rama still wants 1. public hearing and 2. MOA with Megawide on Carbon Market, aside from earlier Sanggunian OK and JVA signed by mayor

SunStar File

CEBU City Vice Mayor Michael Rama in a "public statement" Sunday, April 18, said a memorandum of agreement (MOA) is still needed:

(a) to cover the agreement made with the vendors last March 30 at the mayor's office and similar agreements made after the signing of the joint venture agreement (JVA) with Carbon Market developer Megawide Construction Corp.; and

(b) to correct defects in the said JVA.

Rama also pushed for a public hearing, the lack of which, he said, "questions the legitimacy" of the contract.

SANGGUNIAN REQUEST. Earlier, last March 24, the City Council, which Rama leads as presiding officer, asked in a resolution for Megawide to address the concern of Cebu Historical and Cultural Affairs Commission over the historical and heritage aspect of its plan to develop the decades-old market and its surrounding area, as well as the Sanggunian's concern about the economic terms of the agreement and the plight of vendors and settlers in Sitio Bato.

Rama in Sunday's statement is more specific: He wants a public hearing and a MOA aside from the JVA the city mayor had signed with Megawide.

The completed process included: (1) review of the JVA terms and conditions by the city's Joint Venture Selection Committee (JVSC); (2) the mayor's review of JVSC's recommendations; and (3) consultations made by the City Council on the draft JVA the mayor forwarded to it and its approval of the said contract.

WHY MIKE'S DOING THIS. His April 18 statement tells why: He said he wants to "cure" the "vulnerable" JVA so that it can "stand on solid ground, strong enough to avoid any attack on its integrity." He also said he wants the deal to be "just" to the City Government, Carbon stakeholders, "and even the developer."

In City Council deliberations on the JVA, at times stepping down from his rostrum as presiding officer to speak as a member, Rama said more than once that he wanted that the project can be defended at "Plaza Miranda, Freedom Park or Plaza Independencia," an allusion to the severe scrutiny a public contract is supposed to undergo and withstand. Repeatedly, he referred to the first week of October deadline for filing candidate's certificate, when issues against those seeking reelection are brought out.

WHY IT'S AWKWARD. Whatever members of the City Council see in the JVA now -- including the "horror" that Carbon Market in Units 1, 2 and 3 and Freedom Park and Warwick Barracks "will become no more" -- the entire draft was deliberated on by the lawmakers. Not in just one session but in a number of consultations where, among others, Megawide and vendors groups talked and were grilled by the kagawads.

Being blamed for the virtual ignorance of the JVA terms and conditions was the members' admitted failure to read the more-than-75-pages contract. Some claimed they read a little or a few pages; even Rama claimed he read the JVA in its entirety the night before the March 24 session, more than two months after it had approved the contract on January 6. They didn't even have to read the JVA themselves. Experts and other consultants could've studied it for the City Council, focusing on the "objectionable" parts of it.

It is awkward now for the Sanggunian, at whose door the fault has been ingloriously laid, to walk back and go over the JVA again.

BUT NOT WRONG. Awkward but not wrong. Rama and the other councilors can try to persuade Megawide to re-negotiate. Earlier, the vice mayor talked about the developer being "good people" and "reasonable" when asked by Councilors Joy Young and Eugenio Gabuya how they could assail a perfected contract. Last Sunday, it came to almost a threat to go to court.

The vice mayor and all the other members of the Sanggunian have expressed support to the project and have no "wish to stop it." Which exposes its other vulnerable plank -- its desire for the project -- aside from the package being a done deal.

The City Council can use its power of approval/review on some moves Megawide must make in the course of construction and when Carbon opens, including amendment of the Market Code and compliance with building rules and historical and heritage. It might even decide to sue.

Rama and company may also appeal to the "sense of fairness and justice" of the developer but it has to own up its mistake of not looking before it leaped.

As of now, Megawide holds the stronger card: the JVA approved by the City Council and signed by the mayor.

WHAT'S BARUG COMMON STAND? Rama has virtually been taking the cudgel for the opposition BOPK in the attack on the JVA. Yet on January 6, when the Sanggunian approved the deal, the Rama-led legislators voted down the opposition's request for one more week to study the contract.

Rama let the rejection sail through, apparently siding with or unable to avert it. Now that he's doubling down on the attack against the JVA, is that the position of the majority too?

Mayor Edgardo Labella last March 25 "slammed" the City Council, saying he presumed that it gave him the approval after they read and studied the JVA. Majority Floor Leader Raymond Garcia last April 6 refuted the claim about the requirement of a public hearing ("the ordinance does not require it") and economic benefits to the City Government ("the city will earn much more than its present market income").

Would the Barug majority in the Sanggunian back Rama in its move to "cure" the JVA's defects if push comes to shove? Do the Barug councilors follow the mayor's policies or Mike's direction?

City Hall watchers remember Rama's call last year for a City Council with no partisan color and no party label and "definitely no longer a rubber stamp."


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