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An eventful 2019 for Capitol
Gwendolyn Garcia, Cebu’s first female chief executive, returned to take the top leadership at the Capitol in what is now her fourth term as governor.
STAR/File

An eventful 2019 for Capitol

Lorraine L. Ecarma (The Freeman) - December 30, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — In 2019, change came at the Cebu Provincial Capitol, at least in terms of administration.

Gwendolyn Garcia, Cebu’s first female chief executive, returned to take the top leadership at the Capitol in what is now her fourth term as governor.

What’s interesting is that her erstwhile political nemesis, Hilario Davide III, who took the reins as governor in the immediately preceding six years, is still up and about at the Capitol, albeit now in his capacity as vice governor.

But although Davide leads the Provincial Board, he does so with numbers not on his side--he only has six of 17 board members as allies; the rest, Garcia’s.

With the new leadership sworn in, it did not take long before sparks would fly at the Capitol.

Among Garcia’s marching orders was the implementation of Executive Order No. 1, which halted all developments relating to the construction of the 20-storey Resource Center, a project spearheaded by the previous administration.

Garcia explained that the halt was only just since the completion of the project could mean “irreversible economic loss” for Cebu.

The west wing of the Cebu Provincial Capitol compound was left with a gaping hole in what used to be the Bureau of Agriculture Extension and the Commission on Audit building.

With no response from WTE Construction Inc., the project contractor, Garcia took the offer from Visayas Truckers Equipment and Quarry Operators Services Cooperative to backfill the excavated area.

Garcia did not stop there. She also proved to be serious in the fight to “reclaim” valuable provincial assets.

First, the governor ordered for an inventory of all donated, sold and leased provincial property. This led the Capitol to identify and reacquire multiple prime provincial properties. Among them are Lot No. 929-B, a 849 square meter lot located at Jose Maria del Mar St within Cebu IT Park, illegally leased to Innoland; five roads surrounding the Cebu IT Park including two roads in Salinas Drive and three roads Governor M. Cuenco Avenue; and a 55-car parking lot at located in Salinas Drive.

On top of this, the province also entered into a Deed of Conveyance with Cyberzone Properties Inc. for the transfer of ownership of two fully-constructed towers of four from the Build, Transfer, Operate (BTO) agreement with Filinvest.

From this, the province, being the owner of the constructed buildings, will be receiving lease from Filinvest while also being entitled to two percent of the gross revenue made from its operations.

Reappraisals were also being conducted on all properties of the province.

Multiple issuances signed into execution by the governor since her assumption of office have shifted various aspects of the province’s economic, social and environmental workings.

The most notable of these are Memorandum Circular 4-2019 or the ban on quarrying, EO Nos. 13, 14, 15, 16, 23, and 27 to safeguard the province against the threatening African Swine Fever (ASF) Virus.

After news broke of suspected cases ASF-related hog deaths in the Luzon provinces of Rizal and Bulacan, the Cebu Provincial ASF Task Force convened and agreed for the implementation of a 100-day all-out ban on live hogs, boar semen, pork and pork products from Luzon and other infected countries.

This was done to protect Cebu’s P11 billion hog industry from ASF as the viral disease assures a 100 percent mortality rate among swine. Currently, ASF is without cure nor a preventive vaccine.

As ASF cases in Luzon were confirmed and spread to neighboring provinces, Garcia released multiple EOs adopting additional preventive measures against the strain.

As of this writing, the ban now extends to pork, pork-related products and boar semen from Region 8 or Eastern Visayas, whose provinces had lifted their ban against Luzon meat.

Cebu’s ban will last until June 30, 2020 or until ASF cases would have been sufficiently contained.

In the effort to prevent further degradation of the environment, Garcia also ordered the ban on all quarry operations also included a suspension the issuance of permits for sand and gravel applicants within the province’s territorial jurisdiction.

The provincial government linked arms with the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to enforce the ban.

Under Garcia’s less than half a year in office, Cebu has seen the revival two of the most notable projects under her previous stints as governor: the Pasigarbo sa Sugbo, a festival showcasing all the festivals in the cities and municipalities of Cebu, and the Suroy-suroy Sugbo, a tourism caravan around Cebu’s towns and component cities.

Pasigarbo sa Sugbo’s relaunch this year also marked the largest number of contending cities and municipalities, drawing over 44 contingents out of the possible 51.

As for Suroy-suroy Sugbo, the first leg of its revival consisted of the Southern Heritage Trail. Businessmen and tourists alike experienced the diversity of Cebuano culture innate in each town during the three-day caravan.

The next leg of Suroy-suroy is set on the third week of January 2020.

Notable resolutions

Meanwhile, a closer coordination between the executive and legislative departments also gave birth to some notable resolutions.

Among these is the outsourcing scheme that has been re-implemented among the Capitol departments and Cebu’s 16 district and provincial hospitals.

On September 23, the Provincial Board passed a resolution authorizing Governor Gwendolyn Garcia to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with LBP Services Corp. for the outsourcing of provincial employees.

Some 443 medical personnel and 359 clerical and non-medical personnel have been outsourced.

This scheme has been projected to save P300 million in public funds since the outsourced employees are fewer in number compared to the terminated employees and are not covered by the Salary Standardization Law.

LBP’s winning bid covered P176,661,042.12 for the outsourcing of medical personnel and P82,966,927.39.

On the fiscal side, history was also made as the PB passed what would become Cebu provincial government’s biggest annual budget.

But before that, the board had to tackle a supplemental budget request from Garcia first.

Certified urgent by Garcia, a Supplemental Budget amounting to P1.38 billion went through first, second and third readings on August 5.

Approved in less than 10 minutes, the budget’s biggest chunk was appropriated for the Development Fund.

An P880 million budget allocation consisted of P30 million for buildings and other structures, P800 million for roads and bridges, and P50 million for water supply systems.

Notices of Awards were signed by Garcia on October 28 for the concreting of 66 provincial roads.

The supplemental budget covers at least one kilometer of provincial roads per city and municipality for concreting. These priority projects will also be carried over to the 2020 Annual Budget.

On December 2, the Provincial Board also approved on third reading the proposed P12 billion budget for the Capitol for fiscal year 2020.

This budget, according to the governor, its main author, is the biggest budget Cebu has seen.

Among the top priorities under the 2020 budget are social services that take up about P6.255 billion of the total appropriation.

Garcia’s administration aims to streamline the implementation of the Universal Health Care Law, which provides zero billing for all contributing and non-contributing PhilHealth members in district and provincial hospitals.

A conservative estimate of P4.2 billion has been projected by the province to be downloaded from PhilHealth.

Also notable appropriations are general services (P1.76 billion) and economic services (P3.98 billion).

Water talk

The end of the year marked an end to a “faulty partnership” between the Province of Cebu and Manila Waters Consortium Inc.

Back in August, the province discovered five alleged violations committed by MWCI against the Joint Investment Agreement it entered into with the province for the development and operation of a bulk water supply facility in Luyang River in Carmen.

This includes the increase in the project cost from P702,000,000 to P1,003,000,000, non-remittance of the province’s dues, the plowing back of the province’s share of revenues to capital expenditures, an increase in tariff rate from P13.95 to P24.59 per cubic meter and the decrease in Internal Rate of Return for the Province from the agreed 19.23 percent to 12.3 percent.

Last December 9, a resolution was approved by the Provincial Board terminating the JIA with MWCI.

Since then, MWCI has received the notice of termination and will sit down with Garcia to discuss further the separation and the remittance of its dues from the province.

The series of talks are expected to last until the next year. (FREEMAN)

CEBU PROVINCIAL CAPITOL
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