Qs7: How Kons Mary Ann de los Santos sees the P51.45B Cebu City budget for 2023, what happens next. Plus her take on Mayor Mike’s Singapore-like city, the 'So what?' reaction and ‘tyranny of the majority.’

AMONG the three councilors, all from the minority, who voted against the P51.45 billion Cebu City budget for next year, Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos stabbed at the issue’s core: the practicality and soundness of allocating the enormous amount for one year of spending.

Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK) Councilors de los Santos, Majority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. and Jose Abellanosa voted “No” while Franklyn Ong of the barangay councils sector abstained. Councilors Joy Young and Jessica Resch -- of the supposedly non-partisan youth sector but allied with BOPK -- were presumably absent.

[Related: Explainer in SunStar, December 29, 2022: A colossal P51.45B budget for Cebu City in 2023. Is the City Council humoring Mayor Rama?]

Here’s what de los Santos told me after the December 28, 2022 vote approving the much-talked-about budget:

[1] Describe the P51.45 billion Cebu City budget for 2023.

It’s a product of an overactive imagination. Illogical, unrealistic and (pursued) with strong political muscle-flexing. It has no clear source. The leap from prior year is unthinkable. It’s not based on the city’s financial and economic realities as well as its track record on tax collection.

[2] What happens next: What if the City cannot raise enough money for it? What if it can?

It will severely affect fiscal management of the City and, worse, it cannot fund projects of every department, the budget allocation being anchored on the P51 billion budget.

Maybe it can be done but at what cost, considering that the City, moving forward, does not have a detailed and realistic plan to meet its goals? Will the City squeeze business and its residents more and more at a time of economic crisis to pay for this budget? Will it risk its future on hasty deals and rash financial decisions, like taking interest loans or selling valuable assets?

[3] The comment of “So what?” by a high official seems to reflect an attitude of a sector of the administration on the enormous size of the 2023 budget. What’s wrong with the comment?

“So what?” is used to mean “It’s not important and I don’t care.” It exposes lack of interest. That, to me, is disturbing, an ego-driven administration, which runs contrary to the principle of governance by the people and of the people. A “So what?” response fails to consider the people. It’s lopsided and considers only whims and caprices of the administration.

[4] How about the argument that aiming high and even wishing for the moon can be good? A politician’s term is short and so many things“for the people” require quick action.

Ambition is good but when it’s not based on reality, then it is bad. Simple management skills need to consider: (a) goal-setting, (b) priority-setting, and (c) decision-making. The mentioned skills must be founded on reality, otherwise, the ambition becomes an illusion, if not delusion.

[5] Does the minority have a stand on the budget issue? Only three from BOPK voted against it, one abstained, and two others allied with the minority were not heard from.

I believe the three of us voted according to what we think is right. Party affiliation or loyalty shouldn’t be the basis of one’s decision. It should be one’s own principle.

I asked for nominal voting because I wanted to hear the true sentiment of my colleagues. Unfortunately, not a single soul from the majority was made to speak. At a time when unity should be the cornerstone of nation-building, as we still suffer from the pandemic and its destructive effect, the tyranny of the majority rolls with impunity.

[6] Other than the logic and practicality of the move, which you hammered on, and the haste and not having enough time for the councilors to study the proposal and its changes, which Councilor Archival slammed, are there other reasons?

The ordinance on increase of taxes was not yet approved. As it was the basis for source of funds, approving the budget first was like putting the cart before the horse. Besides, average collection efficiency on RPT or real property taxes in the last four years is only 59.5 percent.

[7] On the administration thrust to make Cebu City “Singapore-like,” which reportedly requires the P51.45 billion tab, you have said you support the plan or project. But you don’t want to pay the price?

Singapore was not built in a year, so to speak. I support the effort to make Cebu City Singapore-like. Cebu City can have a vision to be at par with some other progressive city or state. But that is not a solitary thrust, there are many factors, and definitely not solely focused on finances. []