Malilong: Heaven and earth

When Mayor Michael Rama asked the Cebu City Council to give him a P50 billion budget this year, they gladly obliged him. If he expected the same docility when he later asked them to revise the city’s real property tax base to help fund his budget, the mayor was in for a surprise. The city legislature did revise the tax code, but the adjustments were minuscule compared to Rama’s expectations.

So he vetoed the ordinance not only because, according to him, it did not “express the true values of the properties” but also, and more importantly, because it “deprived the City Government of a proper source of funds.” He will have the Local Finance Committee submit another proposed revision, he said, “and I will move heaven and earth to revise according to law.”

The law in this case is Section 201 of the Local Government Code which provides that “all real property, whether taxable or exempt, shall be appraised at the current and fair market value prevailing in the locality where the property is located.”

He rued that the value of the properties in the city has remained unchanged for 20 years because no revision had taken place. And now that the City Council—while pretending to comply with the law in passing the revised Real Property Tax Code—is actually violating it pisses him off. Thus the invocation of heaven and earth.

But wait. In the hierarchy of violations of the Local Government Code, which is more severe: the provision for inadequate increase or the utter failure to provide for one? And if we are to assign blame for the failure of the city government to revisit the tax code for two decades, upon whose shoulder should it lie? Certainly, not the taxpayer/real property owner. If so, who?

Maybe, those who ruled the city during the 20-year period? A total of five mayors served during that era but we can write off Margot Osmeña because she was mayor for only two months as replacement for the suspended Rama, and Edgardo Labella whose term was plagued by the pandemic and eventually cut short by his death. Those who had longer terms since 2002 were Alvin Garcia, Tommy Osmeña and Rama.

The revision that Rama seeks is estimated, according to published reports, to result in a five-fold increase in real property taxes. It is not unjust, excessive, oppressive or confiscatory, according to his rah-rah boys.

Really? What the City Government, by its inaction, failed to collect for 20 years, it now seeks the taxpayers to pay in one sweeping blow. If it is not unjust, I do not know what is.

I have not forgotten—because I agreed with him—what Rama said when he opposed the proposed increase in water rates by the MCWD: The increase was abrupt and unreasonable considering that we just went through a pandemic and a series of calamities.

Do it on a staggered basis if you have to (increase the water tariff), he told the MCWD. Surely, it will not cause him or the city any harm if the mayor considers his own advice in the revision of the city’s real property tax code.