Bacolod City government faces court suit
THE SOUTHERN BEAT  - Rolly Espina () - January 24, 2008 - 12:00am

Even while Iloilo City was gripped by feverish reactions for the countdown this weekend of the Dinagyang Festival, and with an overflow crowd of visitors, including foreign diplomats, Bacolod City was plunged into another crisis with a prolonged court suit.

The issue involves City Ordinance No. 454, which calls for the takeover of the seaport operations of the Bacolod reclamation area. Mayor Evelio Leonardia on Tuesday announced that he had signed the “takeover ordinance” into law.

He recited the various violations by BREDCO of the comprehensive revised reclamation agreement it had entered into with the city. He claimed that these violations have remained uncorrected until today.

Among these was the transfer by BREDCO to another corporation, Too Harbor International Inc., the exclusive rights previously granted to it by the government – the right to reclaim a portion of the Bacolod City foreshore area and the right to operate the seaport.

He also claimed that BREDCO has encumbered its leasehold rights to the Land Bank of the Philippines and failed to pay the annual rental fee for the port.

BREDCO’s chief legal counsel, former vice mayor Renecito Novero, immediately announced that the private firm is filing a suit against several Bacolod officials behind the takeover bid.

They include Vice Mayor Thaddeus Sayson, Mayor Leonardia, the members of the Sangguniang Panlunsod – councilors Al Viktor Espino, Dindo Ramos, Kevin Ramos, Homer Bais, Greg Gasatay, Celia Flor, and Roberto Rojas.

This development dampened the preparations for the BacoLaodiat of the Fil-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Bacolod City to highlight the Chinese New Year.

And also undercut, to a certain extent, was the major triumph of Bacolod lawyer Raymundo Pandan Jr., who was awarded the 2007 Heritage Press Holiday Poetry Contest in the United States.

Pandan’s winning poem is “An Explanation.” It was described by novelist and poet Eric Gamalinda as a “quiet, elegant little poem that feels like an iceberg: beautiful, mysterious, larger than it seems.”

It was reportedly a tight contest with only three winners chosen, according to Eileen Tabios, who runs the contest from the US.

Pandan, incidentally, is an awardee for poetry of the Palanca Awards 2006 and also a finalist in the National Book Awards 2005. He is the dean of the University of St. La Salle’s College of Law.

Takeover task force

The takeover was signed by Leonardia despite the statement of former Sugar Administrator Wilson Gamboa that it is unconstitutional and focused only on a small issue – the rental – and did not take into consideration the economic impact of the BREDCO reclamation in terms of real estate taxes and other tax benefits which the Bacolod City government has earned as a result of BREDCO’s development of the reclamation area.

The Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry also warned that the move would send a wrong signal to potential investors in Bacolod and could discourage businessmen from further investing in the city.

Leonardia, meanwhile, said he has organized a task force to take over the BREDCO port operations. During the preparatory phase, the task force will coordinate with the Philippine Reclamation Authority, Philippine Ports Authority and other government agencies on the organizational aspects of the takeover, including the agreement on tariffs, rates, duties and charges that are more at public levels.

But Leonardia also declared that the city government still welcomes any move by BREDCO to go back to the bargaining table “with us.”

“We believe that these issues with BREDCO can still be resolved,” he added.

“We will seek nullification of City Ordinance No. 454 because this is violative of the Constitution and the existing contract between the city government and BREDCO,” Novero said.

He added that a city ordinance cannot overshadow a contract.

He said the P20-million civil suit is just a cumulative damage claim and will include “all those who approved the ordinance and Leonardia.”

Leonardia, meanwhile, after claiming that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had given the go-signal for continued operation of the Bacolod Airport even if only by one airline company, started discussions with Air Philippines on what to do and how to operate the old airport.

But that may take a long time to realize since the air navigation equipment and instruments of the previous airport had already been transferred to the Silay airport, which is 20 miles away.

The new airport was inaugurated last Saturday by Vice President Noli de Castro. And initial travel problems such as the high cost of land travel have been partially solved by a shuttle bus, based at SM Mall, which charges only P100 per passenger. That is certainly affordable.

The airport transfer also electrified Silay officials and private individuals who are now in the process of preparing the transformation of Barangay Balaring into an agricultural fishing area and the area near the airport into an industrial and tourism hub.

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