Despite opposition, Dumaguete councilors grant authority requests for reclamation

It took over five hours, but the Dumaguete City Council still granted all that Mayor Felipe Remollo requested to kickstart the controversial P23-billion "Smart City" reclamation project here.

Councilors on Wednesday, July 14, voted 6-3 approving three separate motions. These were:

  • granting Remollo the authority to sign an amended joint venture (JV) agreement with developer E.M. Cuerpo, Inc. (EMCI);
  • passing a resolution of “no objection” to the reclamation project;
  • and granting the mayor the authority to send a letter of intent to the Philippine Reclamation Authority.

The city council acceded despite resistance from residents, environmental groups, scientists, academics, the religious sector, civil society, and even provincial officials since the public first knew of the massive project just last week.

The session began with impassioned speeches from councilors during privilege hour. Councilors supportive of the project hit their critics on social media whom they said unfairly criticized them without knowing the facts.

The majority councilors also raised concerns about the tenor of public debates on the matter.

“Because of this reclamation project, we are demonizing each other. If not us, then our supporters are. […] Even other councilors have been maligned, insulted, and what should I say, given false accusations because of our different opinions or different stands on the project,” said councilor Michael Bandal.

Vice Mayor Karissa Tolentino-Maxino and Bandal quickly hinted, too, that the administration requested to pull out the JV agreement.

Meanwhile, councilors Agustin Miguel Perdices and Joe Kenneth Arbas emphasized prioritizing the public’s welfare and transparency on the project. They appealed to the council to ensure the project’s integrity and to listen to the community’s concerns before making decisions, such as signing of the JV agreement.

Perdices also questioned the need for the city to enter into a joint venture agreement involving unsolicited proposals. He argued that it was part of the developer’s “gamble” to invest in studies and to convince the people of Dumaguete of the project’s benefits prior to entering any contract.

“It [JV agreement] comes from the investor as a form of a safety net so he’s guaranteed full support from the city. He’s asking things from us that’s not even in our PPP [public-private partnership] ordinance,” Perdices said.

While the councilors eventually settled on a motion for reconsideration (MR) to rescind the previous authority they gave Remollo during their July 7 session, Bandal sought to immediately introduce a “revised JVA.”

This “revised JVA,” also called a “memorandum of agreement,” included revisions that aimed “to address and accommodate the legitimate concerns” regarding the previous document and the project, according to the request letter sent by Remollo to the City Council.

Given the haste and legal concerns on the MR process, Perdices said, “You kill one act [previous authority on JV agreement], and you ask approval for another item [authority to sign amended JV agreement]. I don't think you can mix and match both."

The City Council formally received the request letter from Remollo Wednesday morning. The mayor also held a press conference on the highly-contested venture while the city council session was ongoing.

In his press conference, Remollo confirmed that he did not sign the original JV agreement, despite the authority given to him by the City Council last July 7.

However, not all councilors received copies of the mayor’s letter with the revised JV agreement. Because of this, Bandal motioned to defer granting the authority to sign the revised JV agreement to give constituents more time to study the documents.

The motion was not carried out as councilors Manuel Patrimonio, Lilani Ramon, and Dionie Amores objected. Patrimonio argued that he did not see how giving the minority councilors a week to review the documents would make any difference.

Before the session ended Ramon swiftly entered three motions. The council voted 6-3 in favor of all motions.

Councilors Ramon, Patrimonio, Amores, Bandal, Manuel Sagarbarria, and Edgar Lentorio voted in favor of the motion. Although Bandal and Lentorio initially deferred and expressed the value of fair play and prudence given the situation, the two councilors did not oppose the motion in the end.

The three "no" votes were from councilors Perdices, Arbas, and Rosel Erames. They gave their negative votes before the session’s morning recess. The three councilors skipped the afternoon session, with Perdices and Arbas claiming to already know the discussion’s outcome.

Councilor Bernice Elmaco was on leave, while councilor Renz Macion did not attend. – Rappler.com

Editor's Note: The original title of this story erroneously stated that the councilors had approved the project. This has been corrected to state that they had only granted authority requests.

The original version of the story also erroneously stated that the mayor had held a press conference while the city council session was about to start. This has been corrected to state that the conference had happened as the session was ongoing.