EXPLAINER: Almost all the councilors hadn't read the 75-page contract. VM Rama listed 'adverse' terms and needed documents. Still, City Council voted, 10-8, for Megawide-Cebu City joint venture on Carbon market.

Pachico A. Seares
·4 min read

IT IS a "go" for the P5.5-billion joint venture of the Cebu City Government with Megawide Construction Corp. to develop Carbon Market by transforming it into "a business center with in-city hotels, restaurant hub, parks and a well-designed public market."

The City Council authorized Mayor Edgardo Labella to sign and enter into the JV contract with Megawide, effectively shutting the door on Cebu CFI Community Cooperative, which had submitted a letter of intent to the joint venture selection committee and appeared before the Sanggunian.

CFI chairman Winston Garcia, in an October 2021 presentation, asked: "Why would you want a conglomerate, which is in debt, to develop Carbon Market?" Megawide's quick answer: it has "good enough credit" to get funds for the project.

JANUARY 6 SESSION. The City Council voted yes to the contract, which grants Megawide the right to develop under a JVA the city's biggest and oldest public market, during last week's (Wednesday, January 6) regular session yet. Local news media may have failed to report, or has under-reported, the story.

The Carbon market vote involved a major decision, involving not just the finances of City Hall but also the impact of the project on residents in the area stretching from Freedom Park to the seaside of Carbon and on the public that has worked at or patronized the market through several decades.

ODDITIES IN VOTING. The City Council approval was interesting as well, marked by these oddities:

[1] Most members, except two or three, who voted for or against it admitted in open session they read only "parts" or a "portion" of the submitted contract, which consisted of 35 pages plus 40 pages of

annexes. Some councilors laughed over the response, suspecting that "parts" or "portion" actually meant not reading the contract at all.

[2] They voted, despite the information of Vice Mayor Mike Rama that [a] he was still to ask for more than a dozen documents from the JV selection committee and [b] his team of lawyer-consultants found several "disturbing" facts, such as failure to comply with procedures under the JV ordinance, the "formidable" obligation of the city to deliver the affected lots already cleared of "illegal settlers," Warwicks Barracks, part of the affected area, being owned by the national government, not the city.

DON'T RUSH. Significantly, most of the "no" votes were actually votes saying "not yet" or "not now," not last Wednesday anyway. Many opposers said they were for Carbon's development but they wanted "to protect the city's interest" and City Hall's constituents.

Why the rush was not explained, except for a side comment of Councilor James Cuenco who voted for approval: the issues were previously raised at conferences with the ad hoc committee. That may be disputable but nobody contradicted him.

OPPOSERS' CONCERNS. The vice mayor's caution came on top of the concerns of these councilors, among others:

[] Joy Young, over terms allegedly disadvantageous to the city (approval would be "criminal," he said);

[] Eugenio Gabuya Jr., over the effect of the development on prices of foodstuff and other goods at the market;

[] Leah Japzon over "procedural lapses";

[] Alvin Dizon on the protection of "informal, not illegal settlers" to whom the city the city already has commitments.

WHOSE SIDE IS MIKE ON? VM Rama is Sanggunian presiding officer but in the January 6 session, he stepped down to join the debate after the motion to defer the vote was rejected.

Rama had earlier asked each councilor if he or she had read the entire contract, to which almost all answered "no." Then he provided information that should have come from the opposition BOPK, not from the dominant party Barug of which Rama is co-leader.

Rama said his consultants, who are lawyers, scrutinized the contract and came up with the list of papers the City Council would need before approving it and the flaws they found so far, notably, the allegedly unsatisfactory job the selection committee did and the matter of settlers the city must relocate and the title to Warwick Barracks.

But then like most councilors, Rama did not expressly say he was opposed to the project. He just kept repeating his professed mantra of "accountability and transparency." Aside from bringing home the point that the councilors had not read the documents and were not prepared to vote on the contract, he provided the reasons the Sanggunian should have taken its time and slowed down, "hinayhinay lang."