Will Cebu’s Convention Center be finished in time for ‘ASEAN’?

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven () - November 2, 2006 - 12:00am
Surfing the television news yesterday afternoon I was surprised to hear Cebu Vice-Gov. Greg Sanchez saying that as much as P200 million more might be requested from the national government to complete the Cebu International Convention Center.

Gee whiz – the budget, if I’m not mistaken, was already set at around P450 million. Now they may need between P100 to P200 million more?

True, the brilliant and world-applauded architect, I.M. Pei was well-known for huge cost overruns. But, after all, he’s the controversial genius who convinced the French to put his awesome glass pyramid atop their grand museum, the Louvre – the home of the Mona Lisa, made even more famous by Dan Browne’s The Da Vinci Code and the movie made of it starring Tom Hanks.

Is the Cebu Convention Center architect, Manuel Guazon, our local I.M. Pei? A cost overrun may be inevitable in a project now being rushed by crews working night and day – but an additional P100 to P200 million? Sanamagan. And the Center won’t even be roofed by a dome as originally conceptualized. Doggonit, at this late stage, everybody will be awarded a medal for just completing it. We stand to be totally embarrassed if the Big Chiefs of State converge there this December only to find they’ll have to hold their portentous session in a Big Tent on the lawn of the Mactan Shangri-La. Granted, the Shangri-La is always magnificent in itself, but the ASEAN summit, plus three guest prime ministers or four, is not a simple camp-out on the grass.

In any event, Architect Guazon is alleged to have posted a bet of P1.5 million to establish that the Convention Center will be ready by "deadline." The buzz in Cebu is that former Senator John "Sonny" Osmeña is betting the same amount against that wager. It’s not known who’ll determine who wins or loses. A committee of judges? Since the official "deadline" is November 15th – and it’s already November 2 – can the Center be completed on time?

Vice-Governor Sanchez said on TV that the Center is almost 97 percent complete – or did I hear him wrong? The last photographs this writer saw didn’t look like the place was even half-finished. Anyway, Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, who’s currently abroad, has been assuring La Presidenta GMA that the Center will be ready.

I rang up our Cebu Bureau Chief Valeriano "Bobbit" Avila last night and he, too, expressed confidence that the Center will be completed, at least for the Summiteers themselves. He reported that he passes by the construction site every other day and he spots the work going on feverishly. He believes that Malacañang should have alerted Cebu much earlier – perhaps a year and a half ago – so now the Cebuanos are having to play "catch up" in a last-minute rally. But isn’t that the Pinoy way? A mad dash to strive for victory in "the last two minutes"? Let’s hope we don’t fall flat on our faces.

Anyhow, Cebu – both city and province – is always enchanting, the people are hospitable, and there are delights in every direction. During the Marcos Martial Law years, when the Philippines was being avoided by many foreign tourists, hordes of tourists flocked directly to Cebu – entirely bypassing Manila – because it was advertised internationally as "An Island in the Pacific."

Bobbit told me yesterday that Cebu having been chosen by the President as a venue for the ASEAN meetings has already benefited Cebu City. The streets are being paved, with major arteries like Jones Avenue fully concreted. Buildings are being spruced up with new coats of paint. The police department has replaced its creaky, rusting patrol vehicles with a shiny new fleet of prowl cars.

We used to call this wash, grease and spray and fresh paint-job operation our Todos los Santos syndrome, referring to our traditional sprucing up and whitewashing of family gravestone and tombs of the annual All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day visitations.

And so, probably, it’s timely to mention what’s happening in Cebu City today. One thing is certain: Cebu will be swamped with visitors during the ASEAN meetings. At least, even just toting up the number of media persons expected, the "invasion" force of journalists comes to about 2,200 registered to arrive for the party.
* * *
We won’t miss the gigantic-sized billboards which used to choke EDSA and other main roads before the fury of Typhoon Milenyo proved those billboards a danger to public safety. It’s good the government began tearing the billboards down – particularly the heavy steel and iron ones.

One billboard that shouldn’t have been pulled down is the one at a side gate of Camp Aguinaldo, on a wall fronting EDSA. It was a relatively small billboard anyhow, and it carried a stirring message which ought to be read by each passing motorist or passer-by. I last saw the canvas of the sign already furled when I went by the place a couple of days ago. The billboard’s poster had depicted a soldier in full helmet, accompanied by the words, "ANG BUHAY KO PARA SA IYO" ("My life is for you"). It was a stirring reminder to our people that every day, while we go about our workaday tasks and pursue civilian careers, the soldiers of our nation put their lives on the line to protect you and me.

The other day at our Tuesday Club breakfast, I asked Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando (he’s a regular member) to try and save that Armed Forces’ billboard. He promised that he would try to do so if it hadn’t been dismantled.

Even if that billboard actually came down, let’s say a prayer today for our men and women in uniform who man the ramparts, and fight in jungle, swamp and mountain for our defense. They’re not All Saints, and neither are we, but too many critics try to denigrate, even demonize them.

America’s great warrior of World War II, Gen. George S. Patton who was as outspoken in speech as he was aggressive in combat said it best: "It is unfortunate and, to me, tragic that, in our attempts to prevent war, we have taught our people to belittle the heroic qualities of the soldier. They do not realize, as Shakespeare put it, the pursuit of ‘The bubble reputation even at the cannon’s mouth’ is not only a good military characteristic, but also very helpful to the young man when bullets and shells are whistling and cracking around him. Much more could be done if the women of America would praise their heroes." This was contained in Patton’s book, War As I Knew It, 1947.

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, called "Stormin’ Norman" for his gallantry in the Vietnam War, and later his defeat of Iraq in "Operation Desert Storm" in the Gulf War, put it better in 1992, in his piece, It Doesn’t take a Hero.

He wrote: "It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle."

Remember our heroes today as we pray for those we loved in life. Many of them gave their lives for us, without our knowing it.

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