EDITORIAL - Suing city on garbage deal could be a way out

The Freeman

At first it may seem unfair, unbecoming, cruel even, if not arrogant the refusal of the Cebu City government to pay a private company an accumulated P32 million in fees for servicing its garbage dumping requirements for several months. Why would the city not pay up, it may be asked, when it is an established fact that it did enjoy the aforesaid services for the period so described?

But the city would not pay because, according to Mayor Tomas Osmeña, no contract exists to cover the service. The temptation is great to picture Osmeña as a heartless opportunist, who while not denying that the services have indeed been availed of, will still not pay because the lack of any contract allows him legally to escape payment. Why is he even asking the private company to sue?

But before anyone passes judgment on the mayor, it might be worthwhile to revisit the facts. When Osmeña said he is not going to pay because there is no contract, he did not stop there. He said something more. If Osmeña's statement is considered only up to that point, then he indeed would seem to be a free-loading ogre who enjoys a service without paying for it.

But Osmeña went on to say that if he pays up despite the absence of a contract, the possibility is great that the payment would be disallowed by the Commission on Audit, and everything not only will go back to where things were before, he also could get into serious trouble. In other words, there is sense in his refusal to pay up, at least at this point.

Taken in this light, Osmeña's statement about the company suing for payment may not sound as offensive as when first heard. Rather than being cruel or arrogant Osmeña could in fact be trying to open another door to settle the controversy once and for all. If the private company sues, and it gets a favorable court ruling, then not only will the city be compelled to pay, it will also free Osmeña of any liability with the COA.

If this is what it is, then what Osmeña is doing could be a stroke of genius. If it is not what it appears to be, then it becomes an entirely different story altogether, subject to some future comment based on a new set of facts that, as yet, do not seem to be complete. What happens after this has indeed turned out to be something really interesting.

How it eventually turns out, however, does not detract from the fact that this mess would not have happened if somebody from the previous administration had not fallen asleep. How the city could have gone ahead and transact business with the private sector without a contract defies the imagination. And it does not help that all the other local governments that happened to do business with this same private company had their deals covered by contracts. Only Cebu City didn't.

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