SM-Ayala SRP project must go on despite threats
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - February 3, 2020 - 12:00am

Generally, nobody can prevent anyone from filing cases against someone. Whether such cases are empty threats or simply filed to gain leverage that is for the court to determine.

Such is the situation we, Cebuanos, are in today as a huge consortium broke ground last week on a lot at the South Road Properties (SRP). Whether we have salivated too early on the prospect of gaining employment, or excited on the possibility of raking in consequential benefits from the project, that remains to be seen. What we certainly know is, several hurdles do exist and the dreamed outcome is a bit clouded.

To recall, just last week, the SM-Ayala Consortium broke ground on its P316 billion project on the 26-hectare lot out of the 45-hectare disputed property it bought at the SRP. As expected, former Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña (through his legal counsel) cautioned the investors on the repercussions as he promised to file more cases in the near future.Well, in his usual self, actually.

On the brighter side, while then Mayor Osmeña was in his usual (obstructionist) self, Mayor Edgar Labella remained hopeful and determined. Stressing that this project would “decrease the poverty level in the city of Cebu”, he is expecting that the project would generate two million direct and indirect jobs in Cebu City. With a 16,000-capacity convention center and a one-hectare park included, he further said that “over time the project would contribute P22 billion to the city’s revenues through permits, taxes, and other regulatory fees.”

Apparently, therefore, what we have right now are views of two entirely different-minded individuals. An obstructionist/antagonist in then Mayor Osmeña and an encourager/protagonist in Mayor Labella. As to who is right, we need not know right now. However, history might just help us figure out what would happen in the future.

Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) could be the most appropriate example. Yes, today, MCIA is a source of pride. However, what the proponent went through before it became what it is today was horrible. Notably though, as we try to recall how it started, a family name will surely ring a bell for the similarities.

To further recall, as most of us Cebuanos knew, even on the day before the project was awarded to GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC), then Sen. Serge Osmeña (brother of Mayor Tomas Osmeña) questioned the deal before the Supreme Court.

Moreover, the Filinvest Group, the second highest bidder, protested the outcome of the bidding. In a letter they sent on January 2, 2014, they questioned the selection of GMCAC as the highest project bidder due to a “conflict of interest”.

Then, Filinvest Development Corp., thru its EVP and COO, Mr. Eleuterio Coronel, said that “we are hoping that they will abide by the rules and if they follow the rules, they will recognize the validity of the issues we are raising.”

Then, on November 2014, before the officers and employees of GMCAC can warm their seats on their takeover, a new petition was filed by a group of businessmen before the Supreme Court seeking to stop GMCAC from “taking over, rehabilitating and expanding the airport.”  The group, named Business for Progress Movement, led by its president Medardo Deacosta Jr., asked the High Court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against GMCAC.  In their petition, they alleged that GMCAC “has no financial capacity to undertake the rehabilitation and expansion of the Cebu airport.”

As we often say, the rest is history. As we all know, MCIA Terminal 2 was completed and started commercial operations way ahead of schedule. Not only that, while the domestic terminal is yet to be finished, it has immensely impressed travelers already.

Not only that, in just about two years from the start of Terminal 2’s commercial operations, aside from the numerous global awards they’ve been accorded to, new airline companies both here and abroad mounted a good number of flights from Cebu to several lucrative points all over the world.  Likewise, existing airline companies have mounted additional flights.

All these achievements and accolades really speak volumes about GMCAC’s then supposed financial incapacity to undertake the construction and operation of the MCIA.

With this as a precedent, hopefully the SM-Ayala Consortium will pursue this project.  More importantly, the City of Cebu through Mayor Labella and his council must unequivocally support this project too.

Just like GMCAC, altogether, they must prove their detractors (including then Mayor Tomas Osmeña) wrong.

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