By Pet Melliza/The Beekeeper
The next administration will have its hand full wiggling Iloilo City off the debt trap that past and current regimes plunged us into, according to “councilorable” Dwight Trasadas.
The quagmire has shot above P1 B and all that the administration does to repay its obligations is raise taxes.
The city in 2001 under Mayor Mansueto Malabor floated bonds worth P125 million with Philippine National Bank (PNB) as conduit, to construct low-cost houses for city employees.
Malabor returned to civilian life in July 2001 without the chance to start any of the 413 housing units. His successor Jerry Trenas failed to finish any in all nine years in office. Barely a year in his first term, 2002, a contractor blew the whistle: he and fellow subcontractors used substandard materials because their principal, Ace Builders Enterprises, failed to pay them accordingly.
Ace Builders abandoned the project throwing Trenas to catatonic inaction. He did not badger the contractor nor seize its surety bonds. The unfinished houses were cannibalized.
City taxpayers lost not only P125 million in capital. For some reasons, the prime suspect in the “Pavia Housing Scam”, Trenas, changed the nature of debenture, from bonds to direct loan, transferring from the PNB as conduit to Philippine Veterans’ Bank (PVB) as lender.
The transition cost the city P12 million more, swelling its debt to P137 million.
Trenas was elected to congress in May 2010. Before he moved up, he incurred P460 million in loan to construct a new seven-story city hall. He bequeathed to his successor, Jed Patrick Mabilog, a mere skeletal structure but with a balance of P60 million.
Mabilog took less than a year to balloon the city’s indebtedness by P90 million allegedly to acquire heavy equipment for the city’s open dumpsite at Brgy. Calajunan, Mandurriao.
The next year, 2011, Mabilog contracted another debt to the tune of P260 M to complete the city hall sans public bidding. In all, the new city hall costs a total P720 million in loans, suspected to be overpriced with floor area of roughly 14,000 square meters.
Trasadas sees that the succeeding administration, whether that of reelectionist Mabilog or challenger Rommel Ynion, will be scraping the bottom of the barrel implementing fresh projects and repaying debts.
Lately, Mabilog resumed the binge by borrowing another P290 million from Land Bank to transform the Calajunan open dumpsite into a sanitary landfill.
Mabilog is bent on raising taxes despite opposition from businessmen like Trasadas who believe that the city can increase its revenues without need of tax hikes: its tax base has been expanding like subdivisions and buildings mushrooming all over the city.
This is elementary: if the city’s taxpayers increase to 200 from the previous year’s 100, it simply means that its income grew 100 percent without even raising real property tax by a single centavo, based on the presumption that each taxpayer pay a uniform amount.
Should it be Ynion winning the mayoral race, this space proffers an unsolicited advice of investigating how the city’s loans were spent. It must further look into the scandalous racket called “Perimeter Boundary Ordinance” (PBO) which solved everything except the traffic mess in the city.
The Trenas administration mesmerized us in 2007 with the superstition blaming provincial jeepneys for traffic gridlocks. His successor perpetuated that dogma in cahoots with pseudo transport leaders.
The PBO calls for the construction of private terminals in the outskirts where provincial jeepneys and buses are to drop off passengers and cargoes, and wait for their turns to proceed to the city proper.
The PBO considers passengers transported from the towns “theirs”, that is, they have no choice but take only city loop jeepneys to reach the city proper from the terminals.
PBO terminals, bedeviled by poor amenities, mulct passenger vehicles P20 each minimum every passage. “Donation boxes” guard the entrances of their restrooms charging P2 each entry.
Not a single centavo collected by private terminal operators reaches the city coffer as share from the lopsided partnership that fails in its purpose of solving traffic snarls.
Contrast that to Passi City’s modern bus terminal which gives it exclusive income from terminating public vehicles and passengers using its restrooms.
(The Iloilo City Terminal Market or Super Market used to be the hub terminals of all provincial public vehicles. The PBO is supposed to decongest it. The things there are nowadays: the congestion has become even worse. The PBO cleared it of mobile obstruction in the first few days. Soon, the four streets surrounding the Super Market have become a bedlam of terminals, “ukay-ukay” stands, talyer or vehicle repair shops, junkyard, makeshift bodegas, and what-have-you. One has to wiggle his/her vehicle through these obstructions.)