Seares: Tall buildings ban: ‘unstated agenda’

ELECTIVE public officials are driven by public interest. Public good is the overriding consideration, the compelling reason for their decisions.

That’s the theory, which public officials use to justify a move that draws controversy or sets off dispute.

Public safety

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña waves public safety as reason for the ban on medium and high-rise buildings in the city, freezing applications for six months before it adopts a fixed policy.

The reason looks valid and legitimate. Until there are adequate fire-fighting equipment that can cope with fire outbreaks in tall buildings, don’t build one more high-rise structure. Public good seems to support the decision.

Yet that could be just wrapping or coating. Personal or political interest could be part or even the primary intent that’s conveniently concealed.

Ciudad venture

That happened in 2007 when Ciudad, a joint venture of Fifth Ave. Development Corp. and Province of Cebu was blocked by Osmeña, also the mayor at the time. His “public-good” reason? It would worsen traffic congestion in the BanTal (Banilad-Talamban) corridor.

The P1.2-billion enterprise, set to begin in 2005, has been derailed by the personal and political feud between Michael Lloyd Dino, Ciudad chief operating officer, and then governor Gwen Garcia on one side and Mayor Tomas on the other. Even when Michael Rama became mayor in 2010, a BOPK-ruled City Council managed to keep the ban’s screws. Until now, Ciudad is still stuck in quagmire.

Suspicion of ill motive

In the present ban on high-rise buildings, the suspicion of ill motive just turned up. SM and allied BDO bank chain in the city have been “under assault” by Tomas since he returned to City Hall last June 30, 2016. With the ban, an SM Residences project, comprising 25-story buildings proposed at South Road Properties, could be stalled indefinitely. And there are almost a hundred proposed, topped-off or under-construction buildings that would be in a realm of uncertainty.

Collateral damage? Yes. Coincidental? Maybe, maybe not.

Indicia of personal ill-will concealed in public-good garb are there. On the Ciudad project, the traffic crisis barely disguised the intent to block Dino’s and Capitol’s business enterprise. As to the ban on tall buildings after the Ayala fire, public-safety concerns hardly obscure real intent of the policy-maker and its feared ill effects on the investment and construction industry.

On same horse

What must annoy the mayor’s rivals and critics is that it’s hard to identify and isolate his personal interest from the public good that is used to justify the moves.

The “unstated agenda” could be more powerful influence than public interest. And how to wage battle when ill-will rides on the same horse that also carries public good?

Tough in the bar of public opinion, tougher in regulatory agencies and courts of law.
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