Seares: Cebu City Government to spend twice more than original budget for Palaro Games: from P200M to more than P500M. City Council apparently okayed lump sums, with little attention on details of spending.

[] Decision of Acting Mayor Garcia to review specific purchases show the councilors may not have done a thorough job of examining the spending plan. [] Councilors we asked won’t say how the list got through the City Council.
(From left to right) Cebu City Councilor Dondon Hontiveros, Acting Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia, City Councilor Noel Wenceslao, City Councilor Jerry Guardo
(From left to right) Cebu City Councilor Dondon Hontiveros, Acting Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia, City Councilor Noel Wenceslao, City Councilor Jerry Guardo (File Photo)

PUBLIC noise over the purchases being made by the Cebu City Government for the Palarong Pambansa started with public criticism by at least three city councilors over the purchases of goods and services for the national sports competition on July 11 to 15, 2024.

Ironic and “a puzzlement” because appropriations for the Palaro were made by the city legislature, which routinely asks for details of spending before it approves any money appropriation or okays a lump sum but seeks specifics when it charges the amount. The councilors may have goofed again.

ORDER TO SUSPEND. Lending basis for concern about possible misspending was the order of Acting Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia Monday, May 20, 2024, that BAC or the bids and awards committee (infrastructure and consulting services) suspend immediately the procurement process related to the Palaro, giving himself three days to review the purchases.

Acting Mayor Garcia cited general reasons: “good governance, transparency and accountability.” He spoke of checking priorities, not of overpricing which the social media chatter hinted broadly if not said outright.

P21.963-M PORTALETS, PORTABATHS. Not the suspicion-inducing, juicy bits of inevitable gossip such as renting 230 “portabaths” and 248 “portalets” with shower, the whole lot priced at P21.963 million plus.

A short video commentary by broadcaster Jason Monteclar reflected the quick public reaction over cost: too expensive, despite the lure that they’re “made in U.S.A., using “high-density grade 4 polyethylene and UV treatment,” with cover on 51-centimeter-high toilet seat, “with tissue, deodorizer, soap holder and shower head.” A spiel by Councilor Jun Alcover in another Facebook video interview questioned rental, instead of purchase, of the equipment but hailed the acting mayor’s response.

Garcia told media the next day he’d want to know the wisdom of renting instead of buying them, as the City would have more events to come. Which also leads to the question whether an important point wasn’t missed during the planning at the mayor’s office and in the City Council, through the committee on sports, and the Sanggunian en banc.

They might also look into the cost of each unit of 248 “portalets” and 230 “portabaths.” The 478 units and their accessories were totally priced at P21,963,507.

FROM P200M TO MORE THAN P500M. The executive department through the mayor’s office asked for P200 million as Palaro 2024 budget, which the City Council readily approved. The money went to the Cebu City Sports Commission, Councilor Donaldo “Dondon” Hontiveros disclosed last February 2.

How much more money since then has been given to Palaro? Councilor Noel G. Wenceslao, City Council chairman of the committee on budget and finance, told me Tuesday, May 21 it’s now more than P500 million (“ang total tanan more than P500 million”). Or an addition of P300 million plus or an add-on of 150 percent.

DONDON WENT OVER DETAILS. Councilor Hontiveros, chairman of the Committee on Education, Science and Technology and vice chairman of the Committee on Youth and Sports Development, must have helped draw up or review the shopping list for Palaro goods and services.

Councilor Jerry Guardo told me Tuesday, May 21 he had already forgotten the details but apparently he relied on Hontiveros (“siya man gud ang nagpa-approve sa proposal sa Council”).

It could be a case of many councilors not really “perusing” -- a favorite word among the Sanggunian members -- specifics in the proposal and trusting the good sense and purpose of a colleague who they assume has read the documents “thoroughly and carefully” and wouldn’t be careless or dishonest. (I had asked Dondon to comment; he had no answer.)

APPROVED WITHOUT READING. If that was what happened on the Palaro project, it wouldn’t be the first time the City Council fumbled in recent years, the most colossal being the Carbon Market modernization project, whose joint venture agreement (JVA) the city mayor signed on authority from the city legislature, which the councilors later admitting they hadn’t read before the vote.

Flaws in the P5.5 billion JVA, signed on January 11, 2021, were “corrected” in a supplemental agreement on July 31, 2022. With red but relieved faces, the councilors owned up to the problem but were happy they were able to “fix” it.

WHAT THE COUNCIL MIGHT DO. Councilor James Cuenco supplied the possible course of action for the City Council. Acting Mayor Garcia, the councilor said, has ordered a three-day freeze on procurement activities while the executive reviews the details. “If we are satisfied with the outcome, then we may no longer pursue the review ourselves,” he also told me Tuesday, May 21.

Back-track, make-up work is not new to the councilors, who used to be repeatedly drilled by then vice mayor and Sanggunian presiding officer Michael Rama about his mantra on projects and contracts the councilors did sloppy work on repair, not demolish, revise, not annul or rescind. That policy has seemed fine to the councilors, including those from the BOPK minority. Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. and Mary Ann de los Santos chose not to comment on my inquiry.

Acting mayor Raymond Garcia seems to adopt the corrective approach, though with a condition on the Palaro case: He suspends BAC work but only on purchases not yet done.


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