BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Billionaire and former Negros Occidental 3rd District representative Alfredo “Albee” Benitez took his oath of office as incoming mayor of this independent provincial capital before a village chief on Thursday, May 26.
The mayor-elect’s first order of business after taking his oath was to announce that he would try to stop a key infrastructure project of defeated mayor Evelio “Bing” Leonardia.
In a speech, the former legislator said he would do so because there are other more urgent priorities than the P800-million Bacolod MassKara Coliseum, like rehabilitating the city’s public markets.
Benitez made the announcement a day after he visited the coliseum site in Barangay Alijis to meet with officials of the city engineer’s office and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).
He then bared plans to repurpose the planned coliseum into a cheaper, simpler convention/trade center and realign the balance of the budget to redesign and rebuild city markets.
Benitez criticized the city’s current P150-million allocation for the rehabilitation of Burgos, Libertad, and Central markets as a mere facelift, stressing that he wants a more comprehensive solution to address the needs of the markets.
The city, he added, should be able to give more space to sidewalk vendors so they would not block the streets.
Leonardia on New Year’s Eve announced that the city would start construction in the first quarter of 2022 on the the city’s museum-auditorium and multipurpose coliseum. A total of four projects, including a southern bus terminal, will rise on a 8.8-hectare property donated by the Yanson family.
The donor of the land, valued at P440-million by the city, is the Bacolod City-based owners of the country’s biggest bus fleet who have also ventured lately into real estate.
It’s not clear if Benitez has discussed his plans with the Yansons, or reelected senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who has been credited for sourcing funds for Leonardia’s project, including tapping an architect for it.
While Leonardia described the infrastructure project as a future growth center, he was criticized for what critics called lopsided priorities.
The coliseum, which can seat 10,000 people, is one of four projects worth P1.7-billion, underwritten with a loan from the DBP.
Benitez said he and his Asenso Bacolod team had to return to Barangay Singcang-Airport to thank its residents because the village gave him the highest margin of votes against Mayor Evelio Leonardia, with 5,662 votes.
He defeated Leonardia by more than 60,000 votes after he garnered 171,893 votes over the incumbent mayor’s 107,447 votes.
Leonardia has lodged an election protest against Benitez before the Commission on Elections for alleged “massive vote-buying and fake voters” during the May 9 polls. The incoming mayor scoffed at the protest, calling it a “desperate move.”
Benitez’s oath was officiated by Barangay Singcang-Airport barangay captain Rosinie Distrito, brother of his running mate, former councilor Caesar Distrito, who lost his vice mayoral bid to incumbent Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran.
The mayor-elect was joined by reelected Congressman Greg Gasataya, who was dropped by the Leonardia-led Grupo Progreso after he expressed neutrality in the mayoral race.
Also joining them were reelected Councilor Simple Distrito, mother of Caesar and Rosinie Distrito, and neophyte councilors-elect Vladimir Gonzales and Jason Villarosa. Other elected councilors in Asenso Bacolod were not able to make it due to conflicts in their schedules.
Benitez’s Asenso Bacolod was able to secure eight of the 12 seats on the city council. – Rappler.com