Seares: Cebu City Hall took shortcuts in 'tuob,' cemetery projects. Or it just fumbled.

Pachico A. Seares
·4 min read

NO ONE at Cebu City Hall is explaining it clearly enough and people are making their own conclusions. Many suspect mere irregularity; a few obliquely accuse officials of corruption.

Set aside past similar controversies. Just consider the most recent two:

[1] FUROR OVER "TUOB." The steam inhalation equipment: 1,000 kits were to be bought by the city for Covid-19 patients at P2,500 each; purchase papers were prepared; Councilor Jerry Guardo promoted the merit of "tuob" and defended the price ("what is P2,500 for a human life?"). Even as the matter of cost was publicly debated, the sets were already delivered and distributed.

Mayor Edgardo Labella said he had "no knowledge" of the project. He must mean he didn't know about the plan to spend P2.5 million for it, from the lump sums appropriated earlier by the City Council, subject to liquidation.

But he must know about the "tuob" and its proposed equipment. Guardo did a demo in the mayor's office, which the councilor publicized last May 16 on Facebook, complete with photos and the headline "Mayor Labella approves tuob."

The City Council had approved a resolution filed by Guardo and Minority Leader Nestor Archival. But it only asked the executive department to study the benefits of steam inhalation. No request to buy the sets which Guardo was publicly defending as reasonably priced.

The public uproar was loud enough to make City Hall decide to discard the "purchase" version.

Solution: make it a P2.5 million donation.

But the kits, doled out to BICs or barangay isolation centers, were accepted without the approval of the health secretary, which DILG procedures require. And "tuob" kits were not among the United Nations-listed items that are exempted from DOH approval in case of an emergency.

[2] FUSS OVER CEMETERY. The ordinance that would establish a city-owned-and run public cemetery specified Barangay Guba as the site. But even before it was filed with the City Council last week, City Hall workers were already cutting trees and cleaning the area.

Councilor Dave Tumulak, author of the ordinance, didn't know that the site was within the city's watershed and part of Central Cebu's protected area. And City Hall started developing the site before they have complied with requirements on environment protection.

Solution: look for another site. Two locations were later found: Sitio Patayng Yuta and Sitio Baksan in Sapangdaku, both government-owned lots. But a lot of mahogany trees in Guba were already cut; the offense was committed and the cause for embarrassment done.

Shortcuts or...

The rush at Cebu City Hall, the propensity for shortcuts, must be prompted by the sense of crisis, the air of emergency. City Hall officials must feel that some regulations can be dodged for the ultimate goal to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The "tuob" kits piggy-backed on sudden surge of active cases of Covid-19 in the city. The cemetery project was propelled by increase in number of deaths from coronavirus.

Some officials must have thought that some rules can be bent or violated because of the public health calamity. But they didn't reckon outcry of the public -- or, more precisely, the critics.

Some critics have nothing to do these quarantine days except to comment on Facebook or Twitter, with varied reasons for taking potshots at power. Others are compelled by personal dislike of some City Hall personalities, left over from last election's enmity. A few are driven by specific agenda: to smear the administration and collect ammunition for the 2022 elections.

But many of those publicly complaining about the failures are genuinely-concerned residents who believe they deserve better from their elected leaders. Mainstream media, disciplined by training and guided by editors, generally have been responsible and accountable in their coverage of City Hall.

...Or cases of bungling

The other explanation for the series of missteps could be lack of coordination. No one is taking full and firm charge or there are multiple directions ("too many cooks," said one critic), with factional rivalry disuniting the managers.

Mayor Labella's top managers are lawyers. They must know the law or they can look it up. Basic requirements could not be overlooked.

But are they crisis managers? Cutting of corners could be deliberate, the officials confident that the crisis would justify it. But wouldn't the shortcuts violate the "rule of law," which both the mayor and vice mayor have espoused on their election platform?

Or the "tuob" and cemetery fiascos could just be due to management bungling, part of a new administration's learning curve, which they have yet to, ah, flatten.