MANILA, JULY 31, 2006 (STAR) INSIDE CEBU By Bobit S. Avila - The Philippine Star party last Friday night was a smashing bash and a great success, attended by a virtual Who’s Who from the worlds of business, politics and government. About the only people who failed to attend The STAR’s 20th anniversary bash were President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) and yes, our very own publisher Sir Max Soliven! As things turned out, Sir Max was "indisposed" on doctor’s orders and as we learned, he got the flu, just like La Gloria herself, and they had a mini-reunion at the St. Luke’s Medical Center.

The first STAR people I met at the Rizal Ballroom of Makati Shangri-La were the charming Ms. Grace Glory Go, Joanne Ramirez, Doreen Yu, Marichu Villanueva, Tony Katigbak, Kevin Belmonte, Editor-in-Chief Isaac Belmonte and President Miguel Belmonte. Yes sir, no Sir Max Soliven! But the rest of the gang, Sir Arthur Lopez, Babe Romualdez, Jun Ventura and Cebu radioman Choy Torralba, were all there, alright!

It was great to see again former President Fidel V. Ramos with his wife Ming (whom the emcee, Johnny Litton, dubbed as Mrs. Badminton) and discuss with him the upcoming political upheaval… our shift to a parliamentary system. Hopefully, I will meet with FVR when he comes to Cebu next week.

I also had a chit-chat with Ma’am Carmen "Chit" Pedrosa on the upcoming federalism that few writers have discussed and Chit told me that President Arroyo must read my columns as she mentioned federalism in her State of the Nation Address (SONA). Of course, she does, Ma’am Chit. But I specifically pointed out that we shouldn’t go parliamentary and let the Members of Parliament decide who should be federal or not. That’s for the people in our respective regions to decide… not politicians whom we could never hope to trust.

I also met Dr. Jesus V. Perez Jr., dean emeritus of St. Luke’s College of Medicine and a neighbor of Sir Max who wanted to meet me because he liked the articles we’ve been writing about the so many things wrong with our present system of governance. He liked what we wrote that the Senate presidency should be given to the Vice President, just like in the United States and in our local government units (LGUs) where you have the vice governor as head of the Provincial Board and the vice mayor as head of the Sangguniang Panglunsod or City Council. So why is the Senate presidency so hotly contested? Simply put, blame the Cory Constitution.

Perhaps the longest and the most serious discussion I had was with Chief Justice Art Panganiban who, with STAR columnist Jose C. Sison of "A Law Each Day," talked about that landmark Supreme Court en banc decision last July 20 on the case of Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) versus the Court of Appeals, the City of Parañaque and its mayor, Sangguniang Panglungsod, city assessor and city treasurer.

Here’s the meat of this decision by the High Tribunal: "We declare the Airport Lands and Buildings of the Manila International Airport Authority exempt from real estate tax imposed by the City of Parañaque. We declare void all the real estate tax assessments, including the final notices of real estate tax delinquencies, issued by the City of Parañaque on Airport Lands and Buildings of the MIAA, except portions that the MIAA leased to private parties. We also declare void the assailed auction sale, and all its effects, of the Airport Lands and Buildings of the MIAA."

This very controversial case is not exclusive to the litigants involved as it also affects other entities like the Cebu Port Authority (CPA) with which the City of Cebu has been at odds, and the Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) where even Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Arturo Radaza held a rally in front of the airport to denounce it for non-payment of real estate taxes. I’m sure this decision has far-reaching implications in other places as well as it renders many cases moot and academic.

In its voluminous decision, the Supreme Court clearly pointed out that the MIAA is an instrumentality of the Philippine government and therefore, it is not a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) because it is neither a stock nor a non-stock corporation. Hence, the SC said no lands belonging to the MIAA can be sold without the signature of the President of the Philippines. Therefore, the City of Parañaque cannot lay claim to such lands for failure to pay real estate taxes and simply auction national government land to the highest bidder. It’s so simple and logical!

Of course, we are sure that the City of Parañaque would file a motion for reconsideration. But the High Tribunal under Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban has already spoken en banc. Let me just say that finally, the Supreme Court has solved a major problem that has pitted LGUs against the national government. Kudos to the men and women of the Supreme Court!

Back to the STAR party, I was quite surprised to see Mr. Lucio Tan staying for an hour. Apparently, he left the 60th anniversary party of Philippine Airlines (PAL) at the Century Hotel to attend the STAR bash. Mrs. Preciosa Soliven and daughter Sara and Mayor Feliciano Belmonte Jr. took turns in entertaining Vice President Noli de Castro, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Malacañang spokesman Toting Bunye.

It was a near-perfect party, except that I never expected the Rizal Ballroom to be a "hotspot"… yes, it was so hot inside that emcee Johnny Litton had to stop the program for a while to plead over the loudspeakers for the people running the ballroom to turn on the air-conditioning. Of course, with close to 2,000 people coming in and out of the ballroom, the air-conditioning suffered. But someone told me that this was quite common even to weddings held at the Makati Shangri-La ballroom. If they don’t fix this problem, who knows even the Rotary Club of Manila might just leave!

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The next day, since Sir Max couldn’t attend the STAR’s 20th anniversary celebration and knowing that Choy and I personally came for this party, he got himself a four-hour pass from his doctor to join us for lunch upon the invitation of Babe Romualdez at the Manila Golf Club. So we had a mini-celebration with Sir Arthur Lopez, Johnny Litton, Babe, Choy and his brother Ramon Torralba. Call it a debriefing of what went on in Friday night’s party. It was good to see Sir Max up and about and he told us that before she left St. Luke’s for Malacañang, President Arroyo had knocked on his door to bid him goodbye. I told Sir Max that he and the President should stop seeing each other in the hospital.

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For e-mail responses to this article, write to Bobit Avila’s columns in The Freeman can also be accessed through The Philippine STAR website ( He also hosts a weekly talkshow, "Straight from the Sky," shown every Monday, 8 p.m., only in Metro Cebu on Channel 15 of SkyCable.

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