Saturday, September 18, 2021

Editorial: A long-delayed exchange

FOR 10 years now, the governments of Cebu City and Province have circled a proposed land exchange, like a plane waiting for better weather before—if you’ll forgive the pun—finally landing.

This year, Gov. Hilario Davide III and Mayor Tomas Osmeña are attempting to reach an agreement that will deliver different results for each party. A settlement was one thing they both promised in the campaign for the May 9 elections.

According to the latest proposed terms, the Province stands to gain three lots: Block 27 near a mall in Mabolo, Cebu City; the Cebu Zoo property; and a parcel in the South Road Properties (SRP). The City, on the other hand, will get 32 hectares spread over several barangays and occupied by families who were supposed to have paid for these lots starting in 1993.

The benefits for the Province appear less complicated. First, if the exchange proceeds, it will free itself from an old collection problem. It has not managed to make all the occupants pay in full for their lots, despite an extended grace period. Second, it will gain valuable properties it can then develop as economic enterprises and sources of steady revenue.

For the City, the benefits will be a harder sell. An agreement will mean some peace of mind for the few thousand families who occupy these 32 hectares. Depending on how many of them are registered voters of Cebu City, they will not be so easy to evict, because driving them out will exact certain political costs.

But City Hall has other constituents who will hold it accountable—constituents who have secured their own lots and homes without leaning on any local government. Will the City be able to enforce a collection policy that will work better than the Province’s has in these past two decades? Or will it allow occupants to stay on without having to pay for the lots, and if it does, how will it persuade all other constituents that that is its best gambit?

What makes the proposed exchange so intriguing is that, in order for it to fly, the two local governments will probably have to persuade constituents to accept two very different approaches to the management and use of public land.

One will say that developing land for commercial gain or widespread public use (as a park or green space, for example) is the way to go, in order to benefit a broad number. The other will say that allowing a relatively small group of constituents exclusive use of public land—providing they pay a fair price for it—is the way to go. This transaction is definitely one to watch.
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