Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Bowl Job Blows

*my article in the August 19, 2012 issue of the Cordillera Today

Déjà vu – a couple of years ago, the issue helped bring down a mayor’s bid to move up the political ladder and become the city’s representative in congress. Peter Rey Bautista, then the city’s chief executive, found himself at the receiving end of biting criticism, this paper among the most rabid, over plans to bring in a private partner to rehabilitate and develop the dilapidated Baguio Athletic Bowl.

A local reporter claimed then that it was already a “done deal,” likened to a midnight deal since it was done during the Christmas holidays a few months before the elections, and that lawyer Reynaldo Cortes thought that “the measly lease of P1.2M (a year) is ‘peanuts’,” even with the 10% annual increase after the first five years.

I initially joined the bandwagon then, but I have to admit that my opposition was somewhat tempered when I read through the proposal then – a private company would come in to rehabilitate the facility, including raising the track oval to international standards and improving the grandstand to accommodate up to 20,000 spectators. To recoup their expenses, they would be allowed to operate an athletes’ dormitory, sports shops and food and beverage establishments. The facility would remain free and open to the city’s athletes and for city government-sponsored events.

The fact that that the proposal guaranteed that local athletes would still get to use the upgraded facilities for free made me rethink my opposition, though I agreed with Atty. Cortes’ assertion that P100,000 a month was quite disadvantageous to the government.

Bautista gave in to the public outcry then, and shelved the idea. But now the proposal is being revived. Councilor Edison Bilog is today’s lead oppositor up there in City Hall. An online word war is in the offing between him and Councilor Richard Cariño, among those siding with the proposal to privatize the Baguio Athletic Bowl.

The Terms of Reference (TOR) has been posted online for everyone to scrutinize and I have and I don’t buy it.

First, it is not clear whether the local government can actually enter into such deals – the Baguio Athletic Bowl is within Burnham Park, and for crying out loud, as we have been doing every time various parts of the park is turned into a tiangge such the Market Encounter during Panagbenga season, it must be beyond the commerce of man. Besides, can the Baguio City Government, without authorization from the national government, really enter into such contracts involving Burnham Park?

Secondly, our leaders must stop viewing anything that benefits the greater majority as merely an added expense that the city must be able to recoup. A park is an invaluable service that the government must spend for, and the ROI the that city gets from it is far more valuable than whatever amount commercializing it brings: a happy, healthy citizenry that’s able to escape life’s challenges without having to cough up precious, hard-earned money for a chance to simply exhale once in a while. We cannot keep on saying that that we don’t have money for something that will benefit the masses while at the same time throwing away more than a hundred million for useless ERS machines that failed to make a significant dent in our search for a solution to the garbage problem.

To me, privatization is a paradox. The government privatizes primarily due to lack of funds. But then private companies enter into these contracts with the government because the venture is profitable. So, even if I believe that ROI should not be an issue in rehabilitating the Baguio Athletic Bowl, if they indeed believe that the development of the Baguio Athletic Bowl is a profitable venture, why doesn’t our local government just do it itself? No money for it? Come on! Again, we can easily spend more than P100M for ERS machines that didn’t serve its purpose. We can spend millions on unnecessary road repairs. We can spend millions on “park improvements” that actually diminish the aesthetic value of the place rather than enhance it. Heck, not too long ago, we spent millions for a stupid concrete pine tree!

Having said all that, I say no to the privatization of the Baguio Athletic Bowl. It just blows.

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