EXPLAINER: Move to grant COA free use of city lot leads to Sanggunian scrutiny of SRP Gov't. Sector plan. Young asks, Who's the bright boy? Garcia retorts, Tomas Osmeña.

·4 min read

WHAT JUST HAPPENED. The request of Commission on Audit (COA) to use 8,000 square meters of land at South Road Properties owned by the Cebu City Government prompted a motion by Majority Floor Leader Raymond Alvin Garcia to invite SRP Management Office manager Engr. Roberto "Bo" Varquez to appear before the City Council in the Sanggunian session on September 29, Wednesday, after next.

The motion was approved, with an amendment by Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival to invite also the mayor or, presumably, his city administrator or some other representative.

The invited officials -- Varquez and the mayor's representative -- are expected mainly to shed light on key issues that questions from minority BOPK councilors raised on the floor in the City Council's regular session Wednesday, September 15.

GOVERNMENT CENTER, FREE USE. Those potentially divisive issues:

[1] The concept of a Government Sector at SRP. Councilor Joy Augustus Young assailed the idea of locating most of the regional offices of national government agencies, numbering almost 50, at SRP. He said it could generate a lot of traffic in the area where most locators would build two-to-three-story buildings on prime land. Councilor Franklyn Ong asked for an over-all plan that tells the councilors details on the concept and how it will be implemented. Ong focused on what the City will get from the use of the lots by national agencies, which have their own funds to operate regional offices. Let them pay for or rent the lots.

[2] The idea of donating ownership or free use of valuable land. Councilor Young said that while Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia is evicting national offices from province-owned land in Ecotech, Lahug, the City is taking them in at SRP. Councilor Ong said these agencies have budgets for their regional offices, no reason, he said, they get city lots for free. These are valuable assets we are giving them, Ong said.

QUESTION ABOUT 'BRIGHT BOY.' Councilor Young set off a brief, almost-heated exchange when he asked aloud who was "the bright boy" who conceived the plan of clustering regional offices of national agencies in one place at SRP. The first time Young asked, Councilor Garcia said the plan comes from the office of the mayor. Councilors Ong and Eugenio Gabuya Jr., another BOPK member, wanted to know more about the plan, particularly what the City would get from what it would give, either ownership or free use.

The second time Young asked who the "bright boy" was, Garcia answered, "Tomas Osmeña," apparently referring to two donations of SRP lots made by then mayor Osmeña, BOPK chief, to the Department of Health and the Supreme Court during his 2016 to 2019 term.

TOMAS DONATIONS. Under Osmeña's administration, two big lots at SRP were donated to two national government entities:

[1] The 20,000-square-meter lot that a DOH regional complex would occupy. (Groundbreaking was held in August 2017.) But it was not strictly a donation as it involved a swap of DOH land in Kawit Island, where its quarantine service and marine hospital were located, with the city-donated lot. A supposed condition for then president Gloria Arroyo's 2018 executive order declaring Cebu City's full ownership of SRP, including Kawit, was that the City would donate the two-hectare SRP lot for DOH.

[2] The 15,000-square-meter lot to be occupied by a Judiciary Complex, including buildings for the Court of Appeals, Regional Trial Courts and Municipal Trial Courts, a training facility for judges, among others. Then mayor Osmeña signed the MOA with Supreme Court Administrator Jose Midas last January 30, 2019, less than four months before the May 2019 election, which he lost. At the MOA signing, Tomas said the City was "making a sacrifice" in donating the 1.5-hectare lot, then valued at P1.5 billion.

SANGGUNIAN WANTS MORE. The City Council wants SRP manager Varquez not just to give specifics on the proposed use of the 8,000-square-meter lot for COA but also information on the state of the project: its utilization, number of locators, including a list of the remaining lots registered in the name of the City, complete with a "vicinity map" that shows the current state of the 300-hectare property. And details of the administration's plan for a government sector at SRP.

A tall order, as proponent Councilor Archival himself admitted. The Sanggunian though has been making similar requests for information from the executive department. And, as the minority councilors routinely complain, the City Council is often just ignored. Most epic in the list was failure or refusal of the executive department to account for lump-sum appropriations, totaling more than P4.5 billion, for anti-Covid response.

And the Council, dominated by Partido Barug, has not struck back or done anything else about it.

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