INSIDE CEBU, May 2, 2008 (STAR) INSIDE CEBU By Bobit S. Avila - We got a lot of text messages from many of our readers that finally the issue of our shifting to a federal system of government is now being pushed by at least 11 senators. That this will now be debated in the halls of Congress is more than enough we could expect for. I have always known that Senators Edgardo Angara, Aquilino Pimentel and Juan Ponce Enrile were all for a federal system. Perhaps the big surprise was Sen. Kiko Pangilinan who just a few months ago told me that we weren’t ready to be federal. But we welcome his paradigm shift… if Sen. Pangilinan is ready, then he should know that we’re also ready to move this nation into the 21st century.

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President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) has been quite busy in Cebu this week. Last Monday, she went to the City of Bogo, some 100 kilometers north of Cebu City, to launch the Central Nautical Highway, thus highlighting the completion of the Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH) link. This port can now serve as the northern link to Masbate, Leyte and Samar. I once used this link to go to Palompon, Leyte, which is only a two-hour crossing versus taking a barge from Danao City to Pingag Port in Isabel, Leyte, which takes close to five hours. Unfortunately that crossing was no longer available, but with the opening of this roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) port, I’m sure my biker friends would rather use this route to ride to Leyte.

La Presidenta also signed the new University of the Philippines (UP) Charter into law, which among many things, exempts the UP from the salary standardization law, which means their professors can now be paid as high as those in private schools. UP will also get an extra P500 million in the next five years, which we all hope can boost the ratings of this premier university back to its old glory as one of Asia’s best universities.

Incidentally last Sunday, just before the President came to Cebu, there was a P10-billion reclamation project in the northern side of Mactan Island where a memorandum of agreement (MOA) was signed to usher the opening of the celebration of the Kadaugan sa Mactan, a.k.a. the Battle of Mactan (which featured no less than national boxing idol Manny Pacquiao as the Chieftain Lapu-Lapu), but the President’s absence was quite conspicuous and naturally it sent many tongues wagging why she didn’t show up for such a huge development project for Cebu.

This MOA was signed by Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA, which used to be known as the Public Estates Authority) chief Andrea Domingo, giving Lapu-Lapu City the authority to undertake the reclamation of 400 hectares. While this MOA was also signed by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, he clearly pointed out that this project will not cost the national government any funds as this will be handled by the City of Lapu-Lapu.

So why was GMA a no-show in this MOA signing? We can only reckon that she knew that the MOA was going to be signed by the controversial Mayor Arturo Radaza of Lapu-Lapu City who, just a week ago, was indicted by the Office of the Ombudsman for the infamous lamppost scam, together with officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

If you didn’t know, Mayor Radaza also faces a string of graft and corruption cases that we’ve written about many times before like the computer scam where the City of Lapu-Lapu bought Celeron PCs for P49,000 apiece when its supplier Kein Enterprises advertised the prices on its store windows at only P17,500 per unit, including a desk and chair. Perhaps someone tipped off the President that appearing with Mayor Radaza may be bad for her image. Call it a close call for GMA and let me say that I’m glad she wasn’t there.

This brought Mactan Island Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. (MICCI) president Efrain Pelaez Jr. to ask… “Does President Arroyo know that such an MOA was signed by Executive Secretary Ermita?” With the string of corruption cases being slapped against Mayor Arturo Radaza, people now want to know whether this project is aboveboard. In fairness to Secretary Ermita, he signed this MOA with the full knowledge that national funds won’t be used for this project.

But the reality is, the funds of Lapu-Lapu City are now the subject of graft and corruption cases. So Malacañang should have distanced itself far and away from local public officials who have become an embarrassment to the Arroyo administration. Jun Pelaez told me that if the officials of Lapu-Lapu City would get themselves entangled in a P24-million computer scam, how much more for a project worth P10 billion?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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