Wenceslao: Osmeña’s strategy of deprivation

I INITIALLY thought Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña's defeat in the 2013 elections had a mellowing effect on him when he took over City Hall's helm after defeating former mayor Michael Rama in this year's polls. I was wrong. It now looks more and more like that loss had the opposite effect on him. I look at him in his recent press cons and I could see an angry man beyond the poker face.

Osmeña, since he assumed his post, seems determined to inflict pain on those he felt caused his 2013 defeat to Rama. And they are many.

He started by having his wife, Margot, who was acting mayor when Malacañang suspended Rama, Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella and majority of the city councilors, go after barangay captains allied with Rama by taking back the City Hall-issued vehicles that the former mayor issued to them. Then the acting mayor and later Osmeña, after he took over, launched a City Hall equivalent of “ethnic cleansing,” going after pro-Rama employees wherever they are found.

He also targeted the city's largest organization of vendors, the Cebu City United Vendors Association (CCUVA), telling them that they are barred from his office and that they could be driven away from the places where they are plying their wares. The most recent is his announcement that City Hall would stop giving financial aid to barangay officials and workers in Team Rama-allied barangays.

The ruthlessness is amazing, more so because of the seeming lack of subterfuge. Rama can actually be accused of being partisan when he was mayor, but at least he didn't flaunt it. Then again, this is Tommy O we are talking about. What just caught me off guard was the intensity of the offensive. And he is barely three weeks in office. Will the shakedown eventually abate?

Yet there is something positive in this, especially at the barangay level. For the longest time barangay officials have been overly dependent on patronage, specifically from the mayor. This has guided the conduct of their politics. They shift allegiance as easily as they change clothes, transferring support to the incumbent just to get financial assistance.

In a way, Osmeña's recent move could be his way of breaking the resolve of pro-Rama barangay officials. He is probably hoping the deprivation would force these barangay officials to come to him with bended knees. That strategy could also be what he is using against members of CCUVA and other pro-Rama groups.

But that could also force the barangay officials to shun patronage politics and try to govern on their own terms. This could be especially true for barangays in the lowlands that get a big share from the revenues generated by their hosting of commercial establishments in their jurisdiction. They would learn to allocate well the money and resources at their disposal. And by doing so, they would be less dependent on City Hall's financial help, which comes with strings attached.

That could be better said than done, of course. But let us see. The effect of Osmeña's recent acts would actually not be seen immediately. How many of the barangay officials would shift allegiance for the duration of Osmeña's three-year term?

The ultimate test, though, would be the 2016 elections. If Osmeña will ride roughshod over Team Rama in the polls, then we can say that his strategy has succeeded and patronage politics in Cebu City is still alive and well.

Which would be unfortunate.

(khanwens@gmail.com/ twitter: @khanwens)

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