Blank Checks

by Juan L. Mercado

A   geography of  7,016  fractured  islands, even at low  tide, has  pay-offs. It offers insights into how potentials for 21st century advance is sapped by 19th century misrule.  Mactan Island is an  example.

Cross  one of  two bridges, spanning the narrow  Mactan  channel from  Cebu.  And you’re in  Lapu-Lapu  city — a burg of  292,530  people, the flawed 2007 census claims.

Natives   bushwhacked  the explorer  Ferdinand Magellan here in 1521. Today, Lapu-Lapu  hosts  142 factories in  economic zones. Watches, computers, etc. account for 9 percent of our exports.  Over  40 thousand workers shove daytime  population density to 3,581 persons per square kilometer. One out  of four have college degrees.

Economic spin  off   from  Cebu’s  port   is substantial   Daily, 668 planes fly out of Mactan International Airport.  On  the East Asian Migratory Flyway, 97  species of birds  make pit stops at Olgando islet, off Mactan.

Voter’s  names also fly out. Those  critical of  Lapu-Lapu city hall have found their names crop up on  registers elsewhere.

Over  a quarter ( 25.6 percent ) of homes lack toilets. Ambulant  peddlers  haul  murky water into 17 percent of Lapu-Lapu homes. Export  zone firms pay tankers to fill their cisterns. New wells siphon  from already-crumbling aquifers.

In  Metro Cebu,  1,928 rusty streets  symbolize  corrosion of governance. Mayor Arturo Radaza and  Mandaue  city  Thadeo Ouano  snapped up  P365 million worth of  overpriced street lamps  for the 12th Asean Summit.  Only 41 lamps  function today.  Both were suspended for the scam.

These  1,928 “mute parables of graft… reek of collusion by multiple parties,” former  Central Bank Jose Cuisia  told  businessmen.  Get on with  the  prosecution, Cuisia prodded a feet-dragging Ombudsman.

A  graft overhang normally instills fear to tread in recklessly.  But  Lapu-Lapu councilors rushed  in. They   handed  Radaza, still  necklaced with unresolved charges,  “authority to negotiate and  enter into contracts with investors for a P10.2-billion Mactan North Reclamation and Development Project.

By a 10-to-1 vote,   they  authorized  him to “open a credit  line with any universal bank or accredited financial institution to fund the project”  This  blank check.” is  for a 400-hectare mega port, industrial and business park.

The sponsors  didn’t  present  a design plan, Councilor Junard Chan  protested.  Also missing  were  environmental and economic impact studies  for  Barangays Ibo, Buaya, Mactan and Punta Engaño of  Lapu-Lapu’s eastern coast.

“Ang  pasiyang walang  taros / Sa  pagsisi nagtatapos,” the Pilpino proverb warns.  “Rushed decisions end  up  in  regrets”   “It  was obviously approved in a rush,” Chan explained. “I am not opposed to the project. But we  have to be transparent. ”

Give it to Mayor Radaza. He never claimed  transparency was his  strong suit. The  Asean  lamp scam is only  the more visible fraud.  Others scams  have been shoved under the rug.

For  buying  P23.4 million worth of Pentium 4 computer clones, at. double their cost in legit computer shops, Radaza  and  18 others were sued. The  case is pending. Nor were those who funneled Girl Scout funds into a congresswoman’s  private account sanctioned.

The  2007 Mactan Island Chamber of Commerce and Industry  survey reported: “12 respondents said  the  mayor himself made the demand for Money. “One of the mayor’s assistants” demanded the grease for release of license, permit or clearance, 15 respondents claimed.

Cebu  Governor Gwendolyn  Garcia insists  the Regional Development  Council  pass on the reclamation  proposal.  President  Gloria Arroyo already announced  approval  in  2004, scoffs City Administrator Teodulo Ybañez . “Rights have been established” Disapproval would “subject the President to ridicule.”  

Really?   Here’s   the first commandment of “trapo” politics at work:  “Thou shalt always take the name of   thy boss in vain.”  The election virus spreads meanwhile.

Who’ll   implement  this  reclamation  program, if it  takes off?  The mayor plans to  run  for Congress. Madame  Paz Radaza, but of course.    It will be  a  “Mom and Pop” show. They’re  the rule  in a  country dominated by dynasties, like Macapagal-Arroyos or Osmenas.

In the pink of health,  Mrs. Radaza  will  campaign vigorously.  She  resigned  earlier  from  Rural Bank of Subangdaku for “health reasons.”  An  Inquirer report (Jan 12), on the Legacy scam, says that bank collapsed from P1.2 billion worth of “ghost loans.” Cebu  Daily  News reported (May 21) depositors queued up to  file Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation claims.

Bank scams  and  reclamation “blank checks” are valid election issues.  Add to that what Commission on Elections’ Lionel Castellano told  Cebu Citizens- Press Council: Comelec  is looking for reasons why voter’s  registration, in Lapu-Lapu,  slowed to a crawl.  Most centers  register 200 voters a day. But  in Lapu-Lapu, it’s down to 100. Only 50 are accommodated mornings.

Another 50 are listed  in the afternoons, not in schools but in city hall.

Election  integrity  hinges  on reliability of  registration process.  Findings by  Comelec  and  Philippine Insurance Deposit  Corporation, should provide a useful input for  2010 campaign debates, especially on fractured islands.

“It seems a dreadful indignity to have a soul controlled by geography,” as George Santayana once observed.

( E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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