Malilong: No quit in Osmeña

Frank Malilong
·3 min read

FIRST, let’s give credit where credit is due. No other Cebuano leader has done more to get the south reclamation project going than former Cebu City mayor Tommy Osmeña. Other politicians may have dreamed of building a city within a city in our southern corridor years before Osmeña had, but not a single inch of land was raised from the sea until he came along.

It was Osmeña who successfully negotiated with the Japan International Cooperation Agency to extend a loan of 12.315 billion yen (the equivalent of P4.65 billion) in 1995 to fund the project after securing a sovereign guarantee from the national government. And he did not rest until the 300-hectare lot came into being.

A quarter of a century later, Osmeña still refuses to rest despite the series of setbacks he has suffered both in the courts and the political arena. Last week, the Cebu City Regional Trial Court dealt another blow to his effort to invalidate the sale of a huge chunk of the SRP in 2015 by dismissing his complaint for declaratory relief.

The sale was for P16.76 billion of 45.2 hectares of prime lot to the SM-Ayala consortium and Filinvest. It was done by then mayor Mike Rama, Osmeña’s erstwhile protege who beat him in the 2013 election. Osmeña objected to the sale because it was disadvantageous to the City.

Rama never got to spend a single centavo of the proceeds of the sale as Osmeña managed to tie him down through his allies in the city council, who absolutely prohibited any disbursement from the funds, and through a “concerned citizen,” Romulo Torres who went to court to invalidate the transaction, reportedly at the behest of Osmeña.

Osmeña’s political fortunes changed in 2016 when he defeated Rama in a rematch, but he did not have as much luck in his campaign to recover the properties which the buyers, particularly the consortium, understandably resisted.

In 2019, Osmeña lost his re-election bid to Edgar Labella. Before he stepped down, the city council which was controlled by Osmeña’s allies, passed a resolution directing the city attorney’s office to sue to invalidate the sale. The city’s lawyers did as told, less than three weeks before Labella was scheduled to take over.

One month later, the city council, already dominated by Labella’s allies, reversed itself and directed the withdrawal of the petition, forcing Osmeña to sue on Sept. 3 of the same year, in his personal capacity as taxpayer to void the sale. Last week, the Cebu RTC dismissed his complaint on the ground that he had no legal standing to maintain the suit.

The buyers have already paid the full amount of the purchase price. And the Labella administration, free of any political or judicial constraint, has already spent a substantial portion of the payment, especially at the height of the pandemic. They’re also talking about pre-paying the balance of the Jica loan. In fact, the council has already passed a resolution authorizing the mayor to negotiate a pre-payment.

Osmeña remains unfazed, however. Late last week, his lawyer was quoted as saying that they were ready to fight Osmeña’s case all the way to the Supreme Court. There is no quit in Osmeña, it seems.