EXPLAINER: Councilors blame themselves: they OK'd joint venture with Megawide without reading contract. Strategy: stall to 'cure,' not kill the project.

Pachico A. Seares
·7 min read

WHAT HAPPENED. [1] Cebu City officials and Megawide held the ground-breaking ceremony last Wednesday, on the same day the City Council decided to stall the development of Carbon Market area until concerns on historical and cultural value and other issues are settled by the city and the developer.

[2] Issues on market fees and relocation of vendors were reportedly settled before the once-put-off rite was pushed through last March 24. But Vice Mayor Mike Rama said Mayor Edgardo Labella breached their agreement to put on hold the symbolic activity. Besides, it was not just a matter for the vendors alone; other concerns also needed to be resolved.

[3] The City Council adopted the resolution of the Cebu Historical and Cultural Commission (Chac) requiring Megawide to submit its plan for Carbon Market before starting construction to see if it reflects cultural and historical policies of the city and conforms to requirements of the National Historical Commission.

[4] The Sanggunian also widened the scope of requirements by Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival's resolution to add to Chac's cultural and historical concern the matter of Cebu City-Megawide sharing in the proceeds, the placement of all vendors from the old market, and relocation site for families displaced from Sitio Bato.

FROM 'STOPPING' PROJECT TO RENEGOTIATING. An initial move of Councilor Archival to request the mayor and Megawide to stop the Carbon project was aborted by Majority Floorleader Raymond Garcia's objection.

Garcia said it would not serve any purpose as Megawide still had to start, what was there to stop? Archival consulted his BOPK colleagues and came up with the support to the ruling party Barug's move to talk and renegotiate, even as it backs Chac's thrust.

Vice Mayor Rama, who moved for the adoption of the Chac resolution, harped on the haste in the project. His privileged speech was titled "Nganong magdali man ta?" or "Why must we hurry?" That, even with his acceptance of the Sanggunian's fault in hastily approving the joint venture agreement (JVA) last January 7, which four days later, on January 11, was signed by Mayor Labella and Megawide -- with all the defects that members of the City Council now condemn.

BREAST-BEATING ON GUILT. "Sala man nato ni ba!" presiding officer Mike Rama told the councilors.

All of them had not read the 100-page plus JVA: 53 pages of basic contract plus annexes (the previous number given was 75). In the March 25 session, only one claimed he finally read the entire JVA: Rama who said he read it the previous night. Councilor Niña Mabatid claimed she read five pages. The rest were silent, some not bothering to repeat what they in the January 7 session, namely: they read "only a few pages," without specifying how many.

Approving without reading the contract is only slightly less bad than approving without thinking, one councilor told SunStar on condition that his name not be mentioned.

Many councilors didn't know and were shocked or outraged to learn that:

[1] The three Carbon Market buildings, Units 1 to 3, would be torn down and Carbon as a market and occupant vendors would be relocated to new sites in Freedom Park and Warwick Barracks. In sum, physical Carbon Market as people know and see it now would disappear.

[2] The market fees collected by the City Government and turned over, as Councilor Eugenio Gabuya Jr. said, to Megawide. Worse, the city would be paid yearly sums totaling about P100 million for the first four years when Carbon Market's current income, Gabuya repeatedly said, is already P165 million a year.

The city is being given small change, "sinsiyo," said Councilor Gabuya; "pipityogin," said the vice mayor.

[3] VM Rama and at least two councilors deplored "inconsistencies" between what Megawide told the City Council and what are provided in the JVA; the "wholesale" approach to the project. Rama realized that the city is turning to Megawide the whole caboodle, including Compania Maritima property, whose ownership is "not yet settled," and the senior citizens site and Warwick, which are "nationally owned."

POSITION: 'CURE AND NOT STOP.' Rama and most councilors who spoke out for the review said they were not opposing the project but would want fairness to all the stakeholders: the City Government, the vendors, the informal settlers who would be relocated from Bato, and the Cebuanos who market in Carbon or take pride in it. "Atong han-ayon, atong hupayon," Rama said.

But how would the City Council do the "curing" part? Councilor Gabuya wondered how legally that could be pursued since the Sanggunian already approved the JVA and the contract was already signed by both the city mayor and representative of Megawide.

When VM Rama said they would not stop ("dili ta mounding"), Councilor Joy Augustus Young asked, "Stop what? And how?"

Earlier, Rama said he believed that (a) "it is not over until it's over"; (b) Megawide people are "reasonable people" (who succeeded in pushing terms that the councilors now call unfair) and (c) they can still seize "the opportunity to do things right." That opportunity may have to be seized with the good grace of Megawide and the City Council's clout on clearances. Not through court action or litigation.

Pressed for the "bottom line" by Young, Rama talked of matters related to the project that would still need City Council approval, such as the Chac requirement, amendments to the Market Code, and administrative things that need City Council approval.

In other words, Young asked, "stall or delay" the project until they agree on terms less disadvantageous to the city? Apparently yes. And the new conditions, under the Rama plan, would be contained in a memorandum of agreement, which would form as annex to the JVA and modify it.

RAMA'S WISH LIST. Rama talked of past efforts -- under his administration when he was mayor and when Alvin Garcia, Majority Floorleader Raymond Garcia's dad, led City Hall - to preserve the city's history and culture.

The vice mayor said that, plus the chance to develop Carbon Market with its P15 billion or so from the South Road Properties sale of lots -- could've been pursued had their term of office not been interrupted by change of administrations.

Council Joel Garganera commented that they themselves have not been able to preserve Plaza Lawton or Freedom Park. What was Freedom Park is now totally occupied by vendors and could no longer be used for holding political rallies or civic activities. With the Carbon Market moved to Freedom Park under the proposed development, the hall for the park's old function would be located on the third floor. Rama said he wants it on the ground floor "where one case see cars passing cars and people passing and can speak out for freedom."

On their duty to decide what's best for the city and its people, Rama asked if Sanggunian action, or inaction, "could be defended" in Freedom Park, Plaza Independencia or Fuente Osmeña. Two out of three public spaces are still there; Cebuanos can still relate to the vice mayor's metaphor.

'BAD MESSAGE' TO INVESTORS. Would the Sanggunian post-contract moves send a "bad message" to contractors? Would it not be unfair to Megawide that offered and was accepted to convert Carbon into a "world-class market"?

Councilor Alvin Dizon, who earlier pushed for a "people-centered" development of the market, asked his colleagues why they should worry over being unfair to Megawide when the city is giving the use of seven-to-eight hectares of prime commercial land as equity and its terms of the contract are, in return, disadvantageous to the city and its residents, the market vendors and their patrons, and the informal settlers whose houses would replaced by commercial hubs.