MANILA, Philippines — The longtime occupants of San Juan City Hall may have left, but the shadow of their time in office looms large.
Mayor Francis Zamora, speaking to the Inquirer about his 2020 agenda, was elected on a promise of bold change in a city long dominated by the Ejercito-Estrada clan. But vestiges of that period remain — including a debt the city will be paying in the next seven years.
“Our budget for 2020 has an allocation again for debt servicing,” he said. “In fact, we will be paying our debts until 2027.”
San Juan is Metro Manila’s smallest city and typically has a budget of just over P2 billion, so redirecting funds toward loans could force Zamora to sacrifice his own sweeping policy plans. He was upbeat, however, about the possibility of restructuring the city’s loans.
“I will meet with the bank soon and see if it is possible to restructure the loans so that our annual budget will not be affected so much,” he said. “Because you are talking about a lot of money every year that will go just to debt servicing.”
Almost 6 percent of the 2020 budget, or about P144 million, went toward this purpose after the previous administration helmed by Mayor Guia Gomez left behind nearly P1 billion in debt.
The revelation of the debt was soon succeeded by a Commission on Audit report in mid-July that said Gomez also failed to collect P736 million in taxes in 2017 and 2018.
According to Zamora, the city government would reopen this year portions of San Juan Medical Center previously closed for renovation under Gomez, who had a relationship with former President Joseph Estrada, the first in the Ejercito clan to serve as city mayor.
“Our plans for the hospital were derailed because the previous administration was not able to complete the renovation and construction, even with a P500 million budget,” he said.
He added that they were in the process of collecting unsolicited proposals from private entities that would ensure the completion of much-needed facilities in the hospital.
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