FROM THE ARCHIVE: Ceboom architect still upbeat, cites how Cebu can keep lead

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This SunStar Cebu article was first published on February 4, 2012. Osmeña died Monday, July 19, 2021, in a hospital in Cebu. He was 82.

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1. You’re known as the architect of Ceboom, when Cebu’s economic strides first caught the attention of the nation and the world. Much of what Cebu is today economically may be credited in a large part to the foundations laid when you were governor of the province. Do you see Cebu’s growth to continue or do you see the threat of a bubble bursting, such as the collapse of the call center industry and oversupply of condos, hotels, and other housing units? Tell us how Cebu can still survive and prosper despite any turmoil in the economy elsewhere.

Historically, the Bisaya tribes had a more advanced civilization than the rest of the archipelago. Before the Hispanic conquest, we already had a written language. We were garbed in silk and cotton because of the trade with as far as India and China.

We were building more efficient and larger seacraft than the Spanish: the flagship of the Spanish armada that was named “El Galleon de Manila” was built in Cebu. The main reason the Visayan group was better developed than the two other major islands, Mindanao and Luzon, was because all transportation at the time was by sea and collectively the Visayan group has more shoreline, which made the agriculturally-rich coastal areas in the largely agricultural global economy much more productive and convenient.

Cebu’s safe harbor with the protection of the island of Mactan and its central location from northern Mindanao to the Visayan islands and the Bicol region in Luzon are decidedly huge advantages.

Cebu became the only transshipment point in the archipelago and eventually the trading capital for goods from China and India on their way to Malaysia and Indonesia. In the accounts of the Spanish Scribe Pigafetta, the Spanish fleet was led to Cebu and Magellan decided to establish what he hoped would become the lead colonial capital in Cebu, making the so-called Christian monarchy the lead monarchy over all the other neighboring kingdoms.

He was slain by one of the kings or chiefs of the island of Mactan, Lapulapu, which shortened the stay of the Spaniards.

It is important to note that when the Spanish departed to complete the circumnavigation, they sailed to Brunei another trading point, New Guinea, and then sailed through Sumatra on their way to the Malaccan Straits, which indicated the trade network of Cebu. It is obvious therefore that the skill of the Cebuanos was already there before the Spanish came.

After the suppression of the Marcos dictatorship which Cebu never did accept, my governorship came two years after Edsa 1 and gave the Cebuanos the breath of oxygen that revived free enterprise and the potential for optimizing productivity.

My governorship considered the scarce resources and provided M2, the velocity of movement of money, people, goods and services. I prioritized what I called the four pillars for progress.

Power, water, transportation, and communication were laid in Cebu ahead of the rest of the country and the money came from sourcing revenues from thinking out of the box such as the first and only successful municipal bond issue partnering government with the private sector.

The CPVDC, privatization of the Naga power-generation plant, establishment of municipal telephone systems, aggressive and accelerated municipal water systems, cementing of major roads to include even national roads with local funding (unheard of in this country to this day), and organizing and providing task forces for building farm–to-market barangay roads. This infrastructure provided quality of life that has made Cebu favorite of foreign investors, and, most important of all, zero tolerance to graft! As you can now well see, all this inevitably led to higher employment.

Because of better peace-and-order situation, availability of the improved infrastructure, a higher quality of life, and, more importantly, the supply of skilled, educated, reasonably priced services, people with the right working attitude, Cebu has attracted direct foreign investments. These investors whose propensity to invest with discretionary cash do not affect our local money supply. As the Asian economies grow, foreign investment will accelerate and continue to contribute to our local economy. The mushrooming of high-rise dwelling units, hotels, and BPOS is only the tip of the iceberg. This is the Asian Century.

2. You have projected an image of being a visionary by the bold steps you took when you led Cebu. You had a lot to do with the transfer of the airport and the building of the second Mandaue-Mactan bridge, the construction of the Transcentral Highway, the sale of province lots that led to the Ayala Business Center which in turn spawned other malls and business sites, and so forth and so on. What moves do you see from present leaders that you consider similarly visionary?

The most notable would be the South Road Properties of Tomas Osmeña, the dancing provincial inmates of Byron Garcia, and the fast ferries.

What is essential for our future growth, since we sit at the center of north and south America, Australia, Japan, China and Asean, is a destination/transshipment air and sea port not yet existing in the Philippines. A destination port should be able to handle mega container ships and mega tankers that have a maximum of draft 50 feet. An international destination/transshipment airport should have multiple runways and a major cargo handling facility.

In order to support this growth, we need a non-stop light coastal highway, passing all towns from Daanbantayan to Santander, which is affordable and doable immediately.

Secondly, a rapid transit system along, under, or over the old railway from Danao to Argao. Very few people realize that by cutting travel time around Cebu by half, we will multiply our wealth (again the M2 effect). It will mitigate our water supply problems and cut transportation cost. It will increase the value of real estate and enable affordable housing for the working class.

3. What do you see as right or wrong in the way City Hall and Capitol have been run for the past decade? There may be techniques of governance the present leaders may have missed, or are power rivals just mired in too much politics?

A short, short answer: too much egoism results in obstructionism at the expense of the people.

4. There’s still an Osmeña in the Senate (Serge) but Osmeñas in Cebu City seem to be running out of leadership material, with its once deep bench reduced to Tomas Osmeña, who’s ailing, his wife, and probably their son. In the province, the Osmeñas have virtually disappeared with only Sonny Osmeña planning a comeback as congressman and your son Mimo eyeing the Talisay City mayor’s seat or the House post. Is the imminent exit of the Osmeñas still reversible? Lack of young leaders in the clan is a factor but inability of the Osmeñas to unite among themselves may also be a reason.

Cebuanos despaired when the first Osmeña hero on record, Guillermo, was banished from Cebu in 1850 and the Parian church, which he defended, was demolished by the Peninsulares. Little did they know that he left an offspring that would end up being the father of Philippine independence a century later: Sergio Osmena Sr.

Not to worry -- a few dozen fourth- generation Osmeñas from Don Sergio are coming soon.

5. As founder of Promdi (Probinsiyano Muna Development Initiative) under which you ran for president, what did that campaign instruct about galvanizing the Bisaya vote into a potent national or regional political bloc? Can it ever be done, perhaps by another Cebuano leader?

I certainly hope so. We should learn from the Bicolanos and Ilocanos, that’s why they are so well- represented in the national government. However, as happened in many countries in the world, when central imperial powers declined, regional powers grew. Maybe our target should be more autonomy. “Promdi” can easily be achieved through people power.

6. You’re a staunch believer in, and passionate advocate for, Cebu. Slogans and catchprases you’ve used (Ceboom, “an island in the Pacific,” Promdi, and, lately, Sugbo Labao Kanatong Tanan) proclaim the strength of Cebu, the Cebuano, and, by extension, the “promdi.” Do you think the advocacy is still valid nowadays when insularism has given way to primacy of national concerns and globalization?

Precisely because of modern technology, the value of the individual in his ability to communicate with the entire world with the touch of a screen, communities of common interest, language, culture, and beliefs can now organize easily and freely. Consequently, we can now demand what we are deprived of: respect for our language, return of our taxes, and equal representation or the right of self-determination.

7. Looking back, what do you consider as the more satisfying achievements of your career in public service, as governor and presidential chief economic adviser?

I am proudest at having caused employment of the greatest number of Cebuanos. As governor, I had made our people believe in themselves, happy, and productive.

As presidential chief economic advisor, I oversaw the initiation of the four pillars for progress, so successfully implemented in Cebu and, this time, nationwide.

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