CEBU CITY - Cebu province's top two officials pledged at the Provincial Board's (PB) inaugural session Monday to set aside personal and political differences, for their constituents' sake.

Before the session, however, a memo from the Office of the Governor on the processing of local "pork barrel" funds already provoked a question from the vice governor.

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In her speech, Governor Gwendolyn Garcia asked for the board's support for projects and priorities that "are the essential ingredients of what living in the premier province of the country should be all about."

"And of one thing I can be sure. No matter how it is made to appear, however it is written in newspapers or presented on television or reported on radio: we agree on more things than we disagree on," the governor told the PB.

Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr., the PB's presiding officer, said in his speech that "disunity is the least thing I expect to happen again."

To do

The projects the governor wants to focus on, from now until June 2013, include an unsolicited proposal from Manila Water for the joint venture development of Luyang River in Carmen, for bulk water supply, transmission and distribution.

She said this will not only bring water to the cities and towns, but also allow the Province to make "substantial revenues."

Other priorities are providing power to far-flung sitios, more support for three tertiary provincial hospitals and legislation to preserve Cebuano culture and heritage.

Both the governor and vice governor highlighted cooperation in their speeches. Garcia called on the PB to come "to that table of understanding" and Sanchez spoke of "opportunities to rise above partisan politics."

Neither mentioned the "pork barrel" memo.

Released to all officials and department heads, the memo takes up the procedure in the processing and release of the Legislative Assistance Fund (LAF) each PB member receives.

It states that "without need of a favorable resolution of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan," the Provincial Government can process the LAF through the officials and departments concerned, "in the interest of service and requests for assistance."

Association of Barangay Councils President Jose Ribomapil "Joey Boy" Holganza said anything that can answer the barangays' pressing needs in less time will benefit the people.

Control

He believes the new procedure will avoid any gridlocks in acquiring the funds barangays need.

Sanchez, however, said after the session, the memo from the executive department cannot override the ordinance that provided for the LAF, the PB members' version of the "pork barrel."

"The LAF was budgeted under the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and because of the separation of powers that is in our control. If she will get the LAF, that will be added on to her discretionary funds. What will happen to the members of the board?" Sanchez said.

Sanchez, in his speech, said he wants to focus on "computerization and complete transparency," which he acknowledged are also in the executive agenda.

"The PB will make it an executive-legislative agenda so that you private citizens, through websites, servers and the Internet, can have access to what Capitol projects or transactions you would like to know about," he said.

He said he remains hopeful, despite their political differences, that the PB can deliver needed services, like livelihood programs. He said whatever difficulties the board runs into may turn out to be "opportunities in disguise... to rise above partisan politics."

"Just let me work and function as I am supposed to. I refuse to be a spare tire. That is a thing of a past and not in line with good governance," the vice governor said.

The governor, in her speech, asked for increased support in the building of "inexpensive but high-quality classrooms for public elementary and high schools."

Garcia said the Province expects to finish this year the construction of three 100-bed capacity hospitals in Carcar, Danao and Balamban.

"We need your support, through appropriations and other ordinances, to ensure that these hospitals are well-equipped, properly staffed and efficiently run," the governor said.

Together

The governor's office also distributed to the PB progress reports on her 12-point agenda. "In these, you will see that while together we have achieved a lot, a lot of work remains to be done, together," she said.

Garcia recalled that when her first term began in 2004, there were also questions about whether she should address "a more sharply divided" PB then. She reminded PB members of the need to work together, as well as for a "continuing dialogue."

PB member Peter John Calderon said he is ready to support the governor's programs as spelled out in her speech.

The only member of the opposition, apart from the vice governor, PB Member Arleigh Sitoy said the priorities mentioned in the speeches are consistent with his, particularly on health and the promotion of culture and arts.

"I will be very supportive of measures that will help the province. I will not be a problem. I will be very supportive as long as it's for the province," Sitoy, a former mayor of Cordova, said. (RRF of Sun.Star Cebu)