Scrap that over-expensive P800M Cebu International Convention Center! It’s too rushed, unnecessary – and the roof may collapse on the ASEAN leaders!

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven -
Once and for all, let’s stop this nonsense. That foolish and dangerous plan to rush a Cebu International Convention Center to "completion" so it can be used for the summit meeting of the 10 chiefs of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their discussion partners, possibly two or three other chiefs of state, must be abandoned immediately.

If Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and her ally in the plan, Mandaue City Mayor Tadeo Ouano (the Convention Center is located in Mandaue, not Cebu City), insist on constructing that CICC – as it’s known in acronym – let them take their own sweet time about it, and utilize their own provincial and city funds, plus any contributions they can mobilize – but that Center is too extravagant, too risky, and too late for the coming 12th ASEAN Summit.

I was originally open to the idea of completing that Center for use in the ASEAN December conference, but on closer inspection and after, may I say due diligence, I realized that the project is suspiciously over-priced, most of it was not subjected to public bidding sanamagan – and may cause our Presidenta GMA mortal embarrassment. And I mean mortal.

Do you remember what happens when a project is rushed? The roof may fall down on the heads of those conferring inside the building – and, if the Presidents, Prime Ministers, and the Sultan (of Brunei), plus their guest leaders, like Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will be the ones holding their summit there, the consequences could be mortal.

GMA herself would be endangered. It’s bad enough that yesterday’s irrevocable resignation of Defense Secretary Avelino "Nonong" Cruz came as a crushing blow to the Administration – although it was, to be sure, half-expected – a collapse of the roof of the Cebu International Convention Center would be even more crushing.
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In this country, we must not forget what happened when the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos and then Metro Manila Governor and Superma’m Imelda R. Marcos attempted to rush the completion of the Manila Film Center building in the Cultural Center complex fronting Roxas boulevard.

The Film Center was being worked on night and day so it would be in place for the mammoth International Film Festival the martial law regime had organized for purposes of prestige and to attract the stars and glitterati of the global film industry.

The design for the Film Center had been altered a number of times, and, to her horror, Imeldific and her group found the clock ticking inexorably against the project. In the haste to roof the building, the roof struts and supports proved infirm, and in the stage of completion the entire roof and scaffolding collapsed, hurling the laborers on top down to their deaths and crushing and suffocating those below in wet cement. This tragedy occurred on November 17, 1980. Some 169 workers were said to have died – but the remains of most of them were never recovered.

Presumably they lie there, under the floor which was cemented over – and the building was inaugurated "on time" for the Film Festival.

The festival was a huge success. The government-controlled media had managed to hush up the story about the roof collapse and the death of the workers, even if news did leak out.

For years afterwards, there were a lot of ghost stories about the Film Center, however. The Department of Foreign Affairs, for instance, transferred its Consular division and passports section to the building, but a year or two later abandoned it. Some employees and officials working overtime, or on duty late at night, testified to hearing moans, eerie noises, and other weird manifestations.

Oh well. Let’s not tempt fate again by using that gerry-built, not yet finished – and in truth unnecessary Cebu International Convention Center. There are several other venues already firmly standing which could be used for the Summit of the ASEAN chiefs, or the foreign ministers and other VIPs and dignitaries. I’m not certain whether they’ll welcome the prospect of meeting in the projected Big Tent on the grounds of the splendid Mactan Shangri-la Hotel, but there is ample space inside the hotel building itself for a Summit limited to the chiefs or heads of state and their attendant ministers and aides.

Then there is the large Convention Center of the Waterfront Hotel (and Casino) right in the heart of Cebu City itself. The President herself, until she moored her Presidential Yacht, BRP "Ang Pangulo" to the pier to signify she had proclaimed her favorite southern city the Malacañang of the South, used to stay at the Waterfront Hotel. Two giant conventions and congresses have recently been held there.

So enough of placing our shaky bets on a CICC which probably won’t be completed on schedule, would be unsafe since it is hastily-constructed, and is surrounded by mysterious circumstances.

We must be forewarned, too, by recalling another over-expensive project, the PIATCO and Fraport-built NAIA Terminal 3. The terminal still hasn’t been opened for business, but a big portion of the ceiling has already collapsed! What if hundreds of passengers had been queuing up to board their planes beneath that inferior, badly-constructed ceiling? Susmariosep, are we that cursed?

Let’s not forget either than 2,000 or more media persons representing the world press will be converging on Cebu – each one of those journalists and investigative reporters hungry for a story, even a scandal or two to tart up their reports to their home newspapers, radio, television or websites. The Japanese media delegation alone is expected to number no less than 200 media people.

The media focus on Cebu is a double-edged sword. If we do well, the world will be told of our "greatness". If we fail, the merciless glare of the electronic media’s cameras will globally castigate our failure.

Play it safe, Madam President. Choose a well-established venue!
* * *

How do we know the Cebu International Convention Center will cost a monstrous P800 million? The ballooning cost of the CICC – which shot up from P250 million to P800 million – is occupying the headlines of Cebu’s own newspapers.

For instance, the Sun-Star which belongs to the chain owned by the Garcia family – unless I’m mistaken, it’s publisher is still former DOTC Secretary Sonny Garcia, a first cousin of Gov. Gwen Garcia – headlined the Center’s cost in its banner: "CIC to cost P800 Million."

On reading the article itself, you realize it was not intended as an exposé but apparently to explain why the cost had shot up. The Cebu Sun-Star pointed out that "the CICC is a multi-event facility that will have an international sports arena and other amenities."

The article implied that there may be private sector funding, saying: "Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia is thinking of a scheme where the private sector will finish it so the Capitol will no longer have to shell out money."

In truth, who will shell out the money but the Filipino taxpayers? I hope Governor Garcia, who accompanied Presidenta La Gloria on her trip to China, did not whisper into GMA’s ear that in order to complete the Center for ASEAN she needed the bulk of the additional P250 million to come from the national government. The alibi might be the falsehood that the additional fund is required to get the Center ready for ASEAN.

As a taxpayer, I object. Why should we underwrite the Cebu Center’s cost from our national pockets? In case you haven’t noticed, you pay a 12 percent EVAT everytime you buy a cup of coffee. Although this writer is proudly an Honorary Citizen of Cebu, I don’t want my coffee money to be squandered on some extravagant undertaking of Cebu province and Mandaue, because I don’t believe we need that building for ASEAN or our national prestige.
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Our part-time correspondent, Choy R. Torralba, who’s better known as a radio Anchorman, hosting the "Tug-ani ang Lungsod" (Tell the Town) program on station dyLA-AM Cebu City, researched the history of the project.

It seems the original concept of Gov. Gwen Garcia, less than two years ago, was to build a "Mega Dome" for big sports events and concerts which could seat 25,000 spectators. The proposed budget was P250 million.

Cebu province was a cash-rich province when Governor Gwen took over the reigns from her father, former Gov. Pablo Garcia, when term-limits ran out on his third term and he could not vie for a fourth term in office. Gov. Pablo G. was known to be frugal in dispensing with the taxpayers’ money, which is why he left behind P2 billion in the provincial coffers. (A substantial portion of that fund came from the sale of the Cebu Property Ventures shares of the province to the Ayala Group.)

Governor Gwen was somewhat more lavish in her thinking than dad. She is the daughter-in-law of former Ormoc Mayor Codilla, now Congressman – and when he was Mayor of that city in Leyte she had been his Executive Assistant. In that role, she had conceptualized an ambitious city Megadome, proposing it be built at a cost of P100 million in 1998. The project stirred up a hornet’s nest among the thrifty Ormocañons, since their rather small city had other priorities. The people in Ormoc now complain that the Dome has proved to be a "white elephant" in terms of usage and revenue generation.

When La Presidenta GMA announced last December that the 12th ASEAN Summit would be held in Cebu, Governor Gwen dusted off her Megadome idea and assured GMA that the Cebu International Convention Center would go up for the ASEAN Summit at the expense of the province of Cebu. The budget she announced would be P250 million.

Brushing aside skepticism that it would be difficult to finish this project in just a year’s time, the Governor got a new architect for the undertaking, even though it had already made advance payment to the architects of the originally-planned megadome, amounting to several million pesos.

Architect Manuel Guanzon was commissioned and committed to complete the CICC for the announced P250 million. It was thus bidded out, and the contract awarded to W.T. Construction. Work commenced in March 2006.

In August, however, Governor Garcia asked the provincial board to approve a supplemental budget of another P200 million. The justification was the allegation that the price of steel had increased, although fuel and dollar costs had gone down.

Now another and bigger supplemental budget demand? Wow! What happened to the previously vocal provincial board members led by Vice-Gov. Gregorio Sanchez Jr. who had originally opposed the project? Well, Governor Gwen smartly won Vice-Gov. Sanchez over by placing him in charge of the project! Today, the only remaining Board member who’s angrily dissenting is Luigi Quisumbing (a grandson of my classmate Totsie Quisumbing).

If the rumors are true that the CICC is being overpriced by 50 percent, why that’s a whopping P400 million. Enough extras to make a lot of people "politically" happy. What the President can do, if she (and Gov. Gwen Garcia) really want to check it out is to tap a committee of independent contractors, engineers, and architects to give the Palace ASAP an honest, objective assessment.

An honest to goodness assessment could prevent that undertaking from becoming a bigger scandal than the Fertilizer Scam of the last election, and make Joc-Joc Bolante a joker in the midget league.

I’m not accusing the proponents of skullduggery – yet. But the CICC, if GMA is wise, must be junked when it comes to ASEAN. Another venue will do. Better, safer – and less expensive.

Look at Cebu City’s Mayor Tommy Osmeña. He’s got nothing to do with that CICC project. Everything he undertakes for ASEAN is carefully bidded out and stringently supervised for quality. He’s taking the role of host city conscientiously and being very careful.

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