Past Forward

Deja vu, 1964

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How strange the twists and turns of history, more so when it involves the same political names that are embroiled in the continuing saga of the tragic falling out between governor Gwendolyn F. Garcia and her erstwhile favored friend, Acting Gov. Agnes Almendras Magpale.

On Feb. 4, 1964, or exactly 49 years ago the other day, while Rene Espina, governor of Cebu at the time, was in Manila to attend to some matters there, Vice Gov. Priscillano Almendras, uncle of current Vice Gov. Magpale, passed Provincial Board resolution No. 188. By the stroke of a pen, 210 hectares of prime province-owned lots in Cebu City were given away to the city government, on the urging of Almendras’ alleged patron, Sergio “Serging” Osmeña, Jr., the Liberal Party political kingpin of Cebu. Serging, of coruse, is the father of Rep. Tomas Osmeña, the man alleged to be one of the people behind the ascendancy of Magpale in this election season.

The lots included the huge and sprawling Club Filipino de Cebu, which would later become Cebu Business Park and Ayala Center, as well as the properties bordering it.

In the political flak that followed the overnight transfer of expensive prime land, Serging countered that it was his father, president Sergio Osmeña, who bought these properties during his governorship (1904 to 1906) so that these could be turned into parks and streets for the provincial capital. Governor Espina countered that with the city earning P8 million in revenues while the province only got P1.9 million, it was the latter that actually needed the lots more than ever.

The legal battle that ensued pitted a young bar topnotcher and a rising politician at the time, Pablo Garcia, father of governor Gwen, himself a three-term governor of Cebu. Together with governor Espina, the Cebu Mayors’ League and some private citizens, Garcia fought for the province, declaring the donation null and void and illegal to start with. A decade later, a compromise agreement was reached under governor Osmundo Rama, uncle of current mayor and Garcia ally, Mike Rama.

How fast time flies, how soon we forget about the entanglements of the past. And then suddenly we are jolted when we feel a sense of déjà vu.

* * *

A kind of renaissance is going on at the old waterfront under the watch of Mayor Michael Rama who is slowly transforming the picture of a once drab and near-dead block around City Hall and along M.C. Briones (Calle Morga of old). By urging the owners of buildings facing City Hall to spruce up and follow colonial colors, Plaza Sugbu is now not just a pleasant place to enjoy history because of the old Magellan’s kiosk but also because of the art deco architecture surrounding the public square.

Kudos to Mayor Mike who has transformed the former Lutao area of the Spanish period—once home to the rajahs Humabon and Tupas—into the historically significant attraction it so aptly deserves. Even the old early American-era warehouses are back to life, rented out to modern commercial establishments but retaining their original look of nearly a hundred years ago. To complete the picture, Mayor Mike has added a park for senior citizens right beside the old and once-grand Gotiaoco Building, now being planned to house a Chinese heritage museum.

Congratulations, Mayor Mike! May our Sugboanon ancestors shower you with blessings in your proactive recognition of the past as an integral part of the city’s progress and development!

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  • Victor Carl

    Political dynasties screwing each other in the past, present, and future. They can do that for eternity if they wish.

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