Seares: Majority leader Joy Pesquera rants over 'bloating, bloating, bloating' of Cebu City's P100B 2024 budget. Slashed to 'not more than P50B,' outlay still high, says Barug councilor who wants it cut to P20B.

CEBU. (From left) Cebu City Councilors Noel Wenceslao, Joy Pesquera and Mary Ann de los Santos.
CEBU. (From left) Cebu City Councilors Noel Wenceslao, Joy Pesquera and Mary Ann de los Santos.Screenshot from video of December 13 City Council session video/File

[] Pesquera raises voice, almost screaming, for 2 minutes, 25 seconds when she blasts at P500M add-on for Senior Citizens Office, operations, on top of P1B cash assistance.

[] Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos says the City Council was being stupid when it passed a P50B budget in 2023. "We don't want to be called 'stupid' twice."

THE Cebu City Council agreed Wednesday, December 13, 2023, to appropriate "not more than P50 billion" for its general budget for 2024, with Councilor Noel Wenceslao, chairman of the committee on budget and finance, saying he'll go over the items and make more reductions to meet the Sanggunian goal of approving not more than 50 percent of the P100 billion Mayor Michael Rama has proposed.

Other than setting the goal of not exceeding a P50-billion-max spending for next year's operations of the City Government, highlight of the discussion was the blast unleashed by Councilor Jocelyn Pesquera, no less than the majority floor leader and Barug party-mate of Mayor Michael Rama who proposed the huge budget.

STUPID TIMES TWO. A member of the opposition party BOPK, Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos, also rammed the budget, saying the City Council was being stupid in passing a P50 billion budget for 2023. As of October 30, 2023, the city treasurer's office collected only P6 billion against the P50 billion goal, numbers disclosed by Councilor Wenceslao.

Why don't we just pass a supplementary budget whenever we have the money, Councilor de los Santos said. The City Council committed a stupid mistake on the 2023 budget; "we don't want to be called 'stupid' twice," she said.

PESQUERA'S TARGETED HITS. Councilor Pesquera apparently saw many items in the 2024 budget that indicated that departments and offices, through the executive department, were on a spending splurge.

She mentioned specific offices and programs, such as the Youth Development Program, which Pesquera said, gets a bigger outlay than the Department of Engineering and Public Works and the "Sayaw sa Buhis," a program to increase tax collection, which is given P500 million.

Pesquera deplored excess and duplication -- highlighted in the budget for the youth which is also repeated in the budget for social welfare department -- and spending more for an office that's already getting paid to do its job. On the latter, she cited the "Sayaw Para Sa Buhis," which falls under the tax collection function of the treasurer. The councilor noted that the fund will go to the program under the mayor's office, not to the treasury department.

SENIORS' OFFICE EXPLODED IT. But it was the item for the senior citizens office -- an additional P500 million, on top of the P1 billion for cash assistance of older adults -- that blew off the lid, which must have set off the rant against the manner of spending in general at Cebu City Hall, spewing such scattered shots as:

[] "My God...they're bloating, bloating and bloating the budget... so much spending, the people thinking we have all this money..."

[] She supports Mayor Rama's advocacy for a "Singapore-like" Cebu City and the catch-phrase "together, we can make things happen" but she cannot "really, in my conscience agree" to even a P50 billion budget.

Councilor Pesquera -- whom de los Santos of the rival party BOPK credited for being a lawyer and an accountant and her experience as city councilor -- sounded so incensed by the manner city funds were being allocated, suggesting waste of people's money, that she ended the high-pitch part of her monologue (lasting almost two minutes and a half) struggling over the adjective "conscionable." The word, the dictionary tells us, means "guided by conscience." Suggesting: the budget can result in spending that conscience doesn't guide.

'HIGH-FALUTIN' BUDGET. At least two councilors publicly described the P100B -- slashed-to-not-more-than-P50B budget for 2024 -- as "high-faluting" or, informally, "high-falutin," which is less harsh-sounding than its meaning, "pompous or pretentious." Against that are the words that depict the kind of budget wished for by other councilors and perhaps the public they represent: "achievable," "realistic," "down-to-earth."

While a number of department and office heads were doubtful about the treasury being able to collect that money, not in one year anyway, they were just going along with the ride. What have they to lose? And if they won't, what will that tell Mayor Rama who has been confident the P100 billion 2024 budget is achievable, etc., as he was about the P50 billion 2023 budget.

News+One and Explainer have been reporting on the public skepticism about the budget numbers for 2023 and 2024. Not one official of the city administration or person or unit of the vast media apparatus the City Government runs has given a full explanation for these "high-falutin" budgets.

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE? They've listed the projects for which the money is intended but they've failed to convince that the money for the projects can be collected and the spending can be started/completed within the year (the budget is annual, not for more than a year) or even within the officials' term.

It may not be "stupid"; it may not be "unconscionable," maybe just ambitious or "high-falutin." To many taxpayers and voters, it just doesn't stand to reason or plain good sense. They seek to understand, not to condemn. It could be, as the classic line in the 1967 movie "Cool Hand Luke" put it: "What we've got here is failure to communicate."

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