THE HEADLINES. Headlines of newspapers and news sites said it loudly enough: At the June 30 oath-taking of Cebu City Mayor Michael "Mike" Rama, he "envisions a Singapore-like city," his "goal: make Cebu City second to none."
Since then, the mayor has been repeating the phrase "Singapore-like city," such as when he appealed to his political opponents for unity, and asked the information technology and business process outsourcing sector for help.
Mayor Mike is on his fresh term as mayor. He had served two previous terms on his own in 2010 and 2013. In several parts of mayor Edgardo Labella's 2019-2022 term, Rama served as acting mayor when Labella took eight sick leaves and as full-fledged mayor, after Labella died last November 19, 2021.
Rama calls the Singaporean thrust "this journey" and "this dream." But by "Singapore-like," what specifically does the mayor want to achieve? When do we say our city is already like Singapore?
VIRTUES, ATTRIBUTES. In his pitch, Mayor Rama said a lot about virtues and characteristics of leaders and its people for Cebu City to become "Singapore-like." Such as:
-- Transformation: He said it cannot be picked up just anywhere. "It shall be begin in each and everyone."
-- Resilience: The City, Rama said, overcame its problems together with various sectors, such as the I.T. and BPO sector whom he addressed last July 15. "Let us continue to work together."
The City itself must be "highly developed," he said, "second to none." And other motivational stuff, like the old favorite: "together we can make things happen."
WHAT'S THE TARGET. But the specific goal and the means to reach there still have to be drawn up. What exactly is the objective?
Does Cebu City want to be a global financial center, as Singapore is? With a world-class city airport, a greenery program, complete with a botanic garden that is a world-heritage site, a shopper's paradise, and "Instant Asia" that offers visitors a quick glimpse of Asian cultures? And so on, it's a long list. What about the discipline and authoritarianism that many Filipinos resist?
Cebu City has to define its goals. "Like Singapore" is so broad Cebuanos won't know if their city becomes one already. Make the target definite so it will be known if the shooter hits or misses.
MIKE'S PROJECTS. But it must not be mere sloganeering. Even without the "Singapore" sales line, the mayor has listed projects that he wants done, or started done in earnest, in the first 100 days or six months.
Such as: the BRT or bus rapid transit system, studies for light railway system (LRT), monorail system and cable cars, all "to provide mass transport for the growing number of workers in the City." And, to connect the hinterlands and coastal areas with each other and the rest of the city: subways, viaducts, roads, bridges. Those are big plans but, except for the BRT, he talked only of studies, which, fair enough, are doable.
There's stuff that's a bit more specific, though still tough to do: redesigning sidewalks, which would involve clearing them of vendors first; opening more roads to the South Road Properties; building a new City Hall at SRP, which require money and time.
Generalization substitutes for specifics in the other projects: for example, "strengthening coordination and communication" with barangays to "improve delivery of services."
GOING AGAINST BIG PLANS of any administration are the shortness of the term -- less than three years, since the first six months are for adjusting and fixing and the last year to prepare for the next election -- and the long gestation period of any project, the bigger and more ambitious, the longer.
The Rama administration just admitted another drawback: "no cash for new projects." The mayor's secretary, Atty. Colin Rosell, and the Local Finance Committee told City Hall media Monday, August 8, the City has P4.54 billion cash in the banks but the money is "tied" to its payables, computed at P5.04 billion. Meaning, to plain citizens, cash on hand his P50 million short to pay debts. Bluntly, Atty. Rosell said, "Sa diretso nga istorya, way libre nga kwarta nga magamit."
'HUGE ROADBLOCK.' News by-lined Jose Santino Bunachita in CCNI, the City Hall-run "Cebu City News & Information" Facebook site, highlighted Atty. Rosell's statement with the quote lifted out and the story headlined thus, "Administration has no cash for new projects." That came with the comment in the story (not attributed to anyone) that said, "This fiscal situation poses a huge roadblock to the administration's vision of a Singapore-like Cebu City."
There are reasons for the lack of cash, the CCNI story said. Much of the P18.02 billion received from the 2015-2019 sale of SRP lots was spent for the city's annual budgets and supplementary budgets, which mostly were devoted to the Covid-19 pandemic or used the emergency to justify the huge spending.
Rosell said Mayor Rama had nothing left from the SRP funds ("wa nay nahabilin" for him, only cases and suspension) under Labella's term. That means, Mayor Rama wouldn't be held responsible for the spending during his service as acting mayor and full-fledged mayor; it was still deemed under Labella's watch.
The other reason for the depleted cash is the low revenue collection for the past two years. The City has been spending beyond its income: P10.27 billion spent in 2021 when its earning was only P7.36 billion. And P10.36 billion in 2020 when it collected only P8.73 billion.
“DO WE HAVE MONEY FOR THIS?” Obviously, BOPK in the Barug-dominated 15th Sanggunian failed to slow down, if not stop, deficit-spending in 2020 and 2021. Minority Floor Leader, then as now, Nestor Archival Sr., sounded like on auto-repeat each time he called for procedures and requirements of an appropriation. But the questions of "Do we have money for this?" were fewer than the questions on regularity of process.
It appeared that most, if not all, the councilors agreed that the epidemic or disaster was enough to justify heavy spending: "I don't object to the spending but let's follow the process" was a common qualifier.
THE BASIC. The chief executive with vision tends to "aim high and dream big." The successful visionary does so without neglecting basic duties of a local government. Critics of then mayor Tomas Osmeña said he focused his energy on the big-ticket SRP but didn't efficiently collect garbage, control flooding and end traffic congestion. But then, which mayor has substantially done that?
People don't mind the "like-Singapore" ambition. But not at the expense of such basic mandates as (a) delivering basic services, at City Hall and the rest of the city, and (b) having the money for those services and then some for emergencies like Covid and Odette.