Leadership quagmire

With only four months left before a self-imposed deadline to finish the seven-story Iloilo City Hall is reached, City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog is encountering heavy turbulence over how he plans to borrow an additional P260 million to make the seat of government “comfortable” and “impressive”.

Already, allegations of overpricing and extravagance are shaking his 1st year in office and exposes many weaknesses in the way Mabilog is running the city government. The controversy is even becoming a quagmire for his leadership; his feet is stuck in the mire, and the more he moves and talks, finds himself sinking deeper and deeper.

As a political ally, I’m writing this to provide an objective analysis on where the problems lie, and the potential damage it can do to Mabilog if he fails to act quickly enough to discard bad management practices. It’s unsolicited advice that can also enlighten to the general public what the real issues are.

First, the issue of ovepricing and extravagance are valid. And Mabilog would do best to avoid trying to justify his P294 million shopping list for the completion of the City Hall. It’s is plainly too much, scandalous in fact to the ordinary mind. One doesn’t need to be an architect or engineer to understand this. This amount would bring the total cost of the City Hall to about P720 million. That’s three-quarters of a billion pesos!

Mabilog makes the mistake of using the city’s “net borrowing capacity”, which is a formula adopted by the Department of Finance to determine the limit to how much an LGU can borrow to bankroll its development projects, to justify the plan to get an additional loan from Land Bank for his grandiose plan. Well, it’s not about whether the city government can afford to pay for the loan. It’s about how he plans to spend public funds.

There is a basic rule in government projects: simplicity. The City Hall as a structure might be magnificent and imposing, but its facilities and interiors must adhere to standards of simplicity and functionality. I saw his proposed revisions and I was appalled at the bloated figures for certain items. For instance, his modular furnitures and fixtures for the seven-story structure would cost P55 million! By any standards, that is horrendous! The office furniture doesn’t need to be expensive. Perhaps a general budget of P1 million per floor would be reasonable, or a total of P7 million. But definitely not P55 million!

It is also hard to understand what kind of cafeteria Mabilog wants to build for the officials and employees of the city government. His plan estimates the cafeteria to cost P15.66 million. This is strange because then City Mayor, now Rep. Jerry P. Trenas, had already approved a plan to build a cafeteria for P5.66 million. Where will the additional P10 million go? Does he realize how many classrooms that kind of money can build? And he just wants to waste it on a cafeteria?

The problem with Mabilog is that he shoots from the hip. He acts on impulse, and he can’t seem to hold to a decision longer than eight hours. More often than not, he can turn about face on an issue three or four times in as many number of days. Perhaps Mabilog wants to get out of the “I’ll study it” mold of his predecessor. But his fickle-mindedness is his biggest enemy. His own allies are now aghast at his inability to keep his word.

It doesn’t end there. Mabilog seems to think he can “explain” his way out of any situation. He has a tendency to talk lengthily to justify his stand on issues. Unfortunately, it only aggravates his problems. By talking too much, he exposes his flank and gives his enemies a bigger target. He makes statements that are contradictory to his own position. He coins words and phrases that are irrelevant to the issue, and even downright ridiculous. Last night, for example, he said there is no need for a new bidding for the completion phase of City Hall. “It’s considered a continuing bidding,” he said. Where in hell did he pick that term?

Mabilog’s handling of the City Hall issue has weakened his image. It didn’t help that he created an image of weak leadership in how he behaved during the row over the Barbeque Park of Edward Yee. His actions are starting to make friends and allies frustrated. There’s a general feeling of “failed expectations” especially because he harped on demonstrating strong political will as a trademark for his administration.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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