1. MCWD management turmoil
The Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) witnessed a tumultuous period in its management this year when Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama ousted Jose Daluz III, chairman of the board of directors. This struggle began in May, leading to a power tussle as Daluz and the board resisted Rama’s dismissal orders.
After several unfollowed orders, the mayor later appointed a new set of board members — retired general Melquiades Feliciano, who was eventually voted chairman, Aristotle Batuhan and Nelson Yuvallos — to replace Daluz, Miguelito Pato and Jodelyn May Seno. But the Daluz-led board has not stepped down, leading to MCWD having two
The situation escalated when Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) Administrator Vicente Homer Revil declined the City’s request to terminate Daluz, Pato and Seno. The same day the MCWD received LWUA’s letter, Feliciano and other Rama-appointed board members conducted their second board meeting inside the MCWD board room, with a special weapons and tactics (Swat) team sent by the City Legal Office waiting outside the MCWD building.
The conflict continued, with employees siding with the Daluz-led board.
As the year concludes, the crisis persists, with the Daluz-led board declaring two seats vacant and seeking replacements for Rama-appointed members Earl Bonachita and Danilo Ortiz.
Seno was instructed to begin soliciting nominees within MCWD’s service area. She is expected to present the list of nominees to the board on Jan. 8, 2024. The list will then be submitted to Rama for the appointment of new members to replace Ortiz and Bonachita.
Will Rama recognize their move, considering that in his eyes, it is the Feliciano-led board that
is the legitimate board?
2. Compania Maritima dispute
The ongoing dispute between Cebu City Hall and the Cebu Port Authority (CPA) regarding the ownership of the Compania Maritima premises has remained unresolved despite court decisions favoring the CPA. This impasse has affected planned developments in the area, including the Carbon redevelopment project by Megawide Construction Corp. subsidiary Cebu2World Development Inc., whose Puso Village development and mechanized parking have been built on the disputed area.
3. Fiesta fiascos
SINULOG IN SRP, THEN CARMEN. For the first time in Sinulog history, the Sinulog 2023’s grand parade and ritual showdown were held in the South Road Properties (SRP). The decision was met with mixed reactions, including from Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, who decried the new site’s unreadiness leading up to the event.
Just three days before the grand parade and ritual showdown, Garcia, through a Facebook live video on Jan. 12, 2023, announced that nine contingents from the province — Toledo City, Talisay City, Carcar City, Carmen, Moalboal, Tuburan, Naga City, Mandaue City and Consolacion — would no longer participate in the event, and would perform instead in the 50th Sinulog sa Carmen the following Sunday.
GLITCH-RIDDEN PASIGARBO. Months after the Sinulog 2023 fiasco, another cultural event made noise in Cebu, this time, the Pasigarbo sa Sugbo 2023 held in August.
The ritual showdown of Pasigarbo sa Sugbo 2023, which started around 6 p.m. on Aug. 27, lasted 11 hours, or ended at almost 4 a.m. on Aug. 28. The prolonged duration was attributed to a technical glitch that marred the program.
Garcia had to air her frustrations three times during the show to the lights and show provider, Alberca Sounds and Lights, whom she blamed for the technical glitches experienced during the performances of some contingents. This later on led Garcia to accuse Isidro Alberca, owner of Alberca Lights and Sounds, of sabotaging the show. Alberca, a Carcar City resident, also happened to be the father of the Carcar City Festival Queen contestant.
Carcar City’s Kabkaban Festival emerged victorious on that day.
However, due to the technical glitches that marred the performances at the New Carcar City Sports Complex, the Capitol decided to recompute the scores, which changed the list of winners in September. Minglanilla’s Sugat Kabanhawan Festival was eventually declared as winner, followed by Toledo City’s Hinulawan Festival in second place, City of Naga’s Dagitab Festival in third place, Liloan’s Rosquillos Festival in fourth place, Bantayan’s Palawod Festival in fifth, and Kabkaban Festival now down to sixth place.
Based on the last report in September, the lights and sounds supplier remained unpaid for its services rendered to Capitol.
4. African swine fever in Cebu
In March, the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) discovered African swine fever (ASF) cases in a slaughterhouse in Carcar City. Around two weeks later, ASF cases were also detected in Cebu City, Liloan, Sibonga, Tuburan, and Bogo City through blood samples collected from pigs in backyard farms.
Due to such findings, the BAI, along with the local government units in Cebu, had to implement measures to curb the spread of the disease including implementing a color-coding scheme regulating the entry of hogs in particular zones, and culling.
These measures did not sit well with Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, and led to her questioning the authority of BAI to implement such policies. She also issued two memorandums that prohibited culling within a 500-meter radius and warned national agencies, especially the DA, to coordinate with the local government units (LGUs) in the planning and execution of their programs and projects.
Garcia eventually filed a case against five BAI officials for violations of Republic Act (RA) 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and RA 7160, or the Local Government Code of 1991.
Provincial Ordinance 2023-02 was enacted, which orders all national government agencies and government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) to adhere to Sections 2(c), 25(b), 26 and 27 of Republic Act 7160 by coordinating, consulting, and involving the Province of Cebu in the planning and implementation of their programs, projects and policies.
5. Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (CBRT) project commencement
Almost five years since the CBRT was approved, its construction works finally started in February 2023, with the promise that Package 1 of the project would be completed by December of 2023. However, its construction has not gone as smoothly as expected, especially after the matter of two skywalks’ ownership came into the picture.
In February this year, CBRT manager Norvin Imbong already started asking for clearance for the removal of the skywalks along Osmena Blvd. — one near Fuente Osmeña and the other one near Cebu Normal University, for being in the project’s way. But it took months to track down the owner of the structures.
The Cebu City Government, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Central Visayas, and DPWH Cebu City District Engineering Office had to dig for documents to determine the rightful office that could authorize the demolition of the skywalks.
The National Economic and Development Authority also announced in October the changes in the project’s cost, timelines and coverage.
The infrastructure’s cost was raised from P16.3 billion to P28.78 billion; the implementation period was extended to the end of December 2027 and its loan validity from the French Development Agency (AFD) and the World Bank was adjusted to September 2027. With several changes to the design, the new target year of completion of the CBRT was moved to 2027 from the original target of 2025.
6. Kamagayan v-hire terminal closure
It was a surprise to the drivers of van-for-hire (v-hire) units bound for the southern part of Cebu when personnel of the Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO) ordered them to vacate the v-hire terminal in Barangay Kamagayan in the afternoon of April 28, leaving around 1,800 commuters clueless on where to get a ride home. Only 30 minutes was given to the drivers to leave the terminal, with 11 van units clamped after the drivers did not show up.
CCTO head Raquel Arce said the reasons for closure were that the terminal was “not accredited” and had been violating Section 5b of City Ordinance 1958 dated 2003, which states that “No terminal shall be located within a radius of 300 meters from a block that includes the central downtown area.”
The drivers were asked to transfer to a terminal intended for them in SM Seaside City Cebu in the South Road Properties (SRP), but Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia eventually intervened and provided the drivers a space in the Cebu South Bus Terminal.
Though they had found a new terminal, drivers had to navigate the policies implemented in the terminal, including the payment system and competing with buses with the same routes as theirs.
7. Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections 2023
After years of postponement, the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections finally pushed through last Oct. 30. The elections were peaceful in Cebu; however, minor concerns were raised, specifically the accessibility of the polling places for senior citizens. Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, who experienced it firsthand after casting his vote on the fourth floor of Guadalupe Elementary School, called for “sensitivity” for senior citizens.
The first-ever mall voting was also conducted during the Oct. 30 elections, with Robinsons Galleria Cebu and SM City Consolacion as the pioneering venues. Despite the comfort the mall voting offered, only around 50 percent of the registered voters in Barangay Parian voted in Robinsons Galleria Cebu.
8. Cebu City’s record budget
Cebu City made history when it appropriated a colossal P50 billion annual budget for 2023, the biggest among the local government units in the Philippines, dwarfing the budgets of the three richest cities in the country, including Quezon City with a P33.5 billion annual budget for the year 2023.
However, of the P50 billion approved budget, the Cebu City Treasurer’s Office (CTO) reported that only around P7.6 billion had been collected as of October.
Though the City failed to reach its P50 billion budget for the year 2023, Mayor Michael Rama asked for an even bigger budget for the year 2024 amounting to P100 billion, double the current year’s annual budget.
The City Council though made a major slashing of the proposed budget and approved only P25 billion during its last special session last Wednesday, Dec. 27.
Pending before the City Council is the measure that would have helped the City to meet its historic budget — the revision of the City’s Real Property Tax (RPT) Code. The council had approved a version of the revised RPT Code in 2022, but Rama vetoed it in February this year, saying it did not express the true values of properties and would have deprived the City Government of a proper source of funds.
The Local Finance Committee submitted again to the council another version of the RPT Code revision in August, this time proposing a change first in the fair market values of all residential, commercial and industrial lots in the city as the basis for the classification, appraisal and assessments in connection with the 2024 general revision of real property assessments.
After a series of public hearings conducted for the new proposed version of the RPT Code, big developers in the city, including Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) and Robinsons Land Corp. (RLC), raised objections to the RPT Code revision. In an Oct. 12 letter to Cebu City Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia, ALI vice president Jennylle Tupaz said the proposed ordinance, if passed into law, would result in “an unjust, excessive and confiscatory measure,” citing Sections 130 and 186 of the Local Government Code of the Philippines. RLC, meanwhile, pointed out the potential adverse effects the ordinance might bring upon property owners and the wider community.
9. Brutal ends
GIRL IN A BOX. Several crime incidents happened in 2023, but the girl found stuffed in a box in Barangay Tisa, Cebu City on July 17, eventually identified as Rhea Mae Tocmo, became major news. The police said the body was wrapped in packaging tape and covered in a white blanket. The face could hardly be recognized. The hands and feet were bound by wire. Some parts of Tocmo’s body were bruised, which indicated that the victim had been tortured before she was placed in the cardboard box that was later dumped roadside.
In less than a month, the police found the alleged killer of the 19-year-old Tocmo in the person of Simeon Gabutero, Tocmo’s boyfriend. The 22-year-old construction worker admitted in his extrajudicial confession that he had killed his girlfriend on July 16, according to Maj. Angelito Valleser, chief of the Labangon Police Station.
COVETED BY NEIGHBOR? Just days after the alleged killer of Tocmo was arrested, a senior high school female student was found half-naked and dead in Barangay Bunga, Toledo City on Aug. 25. The victim was identified as Sharmaine Flores, 17, a Grade 12 student at a private school in Toledo. Police filed charges of rape with homicide against her neighbor, Jonathan Sugabo, 29.
DOUBLE MURDER. Another crime incident that made noise this year was the killing of Manguiao, Asturias Barangay Captain Mario Tundag, 57, and his wife Edna, 49, on the morning of March 14.
Motorcycle-riding assailants shot the couple several times while they were on board their motorcycle and passing Poblacion Central Elementary School in the western Cebu town of Asturias. The family of the barangay chief said Tundag had received numerous threats to his life prior to the ambush.
COUNCILORS TOO. Just weeks before the Oct. 30 barangay elections, two public officials from Cebu and Bohol were shot dead, one of them a candidate in the elections. In Balamban, Cebu, Barangay Cansomoroy Councilor Anastacio Pacquiao, 60, was running for barangay captain, when he was killed on Oct. 5. Pacquiao was driving a motorcycle when he was shot by a gunman on a motorcycle on the national highway in Prenza, Balamban. In Bohol, Municipal Councilor Danilo Añora of Buenavista town was fatally shot by riding-in-tandem assailants on Oct. 6, along the national highway in the municipality’s Barangay Cangawa.
10. Cebu fires
For nine hours, firefighters tried to put out the fire that hit a 37-story building under construction at the Grand Residences condominium development on Gov. M. Cuenco Ave. in Barangay Kasambagan, Cebu City on April 14, causing almost P4 billion in damage. The incident prompted the Cebu City Government to review its capabilities to respond to fire incidents involving high-rise buildings.
Another fire in Cebu City this year occurred in Sitio Upper Capaculan, Barangay Tisa. In just 20 minutes, it claimed the lives of four children trapped behind the window grill of their home. The fatalities whose bodies were charred beyond recognition were 10-year-old Angelo Bayaton, six-year-old Crylle Bayaton, one-year-old Christina Bayaton and 11-month-old Amari Zane Cabornay.
And then days before Christmas, an afternoon fire hit Sitio Sta. Maria, then crossed over to the neighboring Sitio Seaside, in Barangay Pusok, Lapu-Lapu City on Dec. 12, leaving more than 5,000 individuals homeless.