Seares: Labella ‘must be impartial’ (2) | SunStar

Seares: Labella ‘must be impartial’ (2)

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Seares: Labella ‘must be impartial’ (2)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

BOPK most likely will control the Cebu City Council and get its wish to reorganize the committees of the local legislature.

DILG, expected to rely on Supreme Court decisions and its own earlier opinion on a similar issue, will favor BOPK’s stand that the vice mayor, counted to determine a quorum, is not included in the vote on any matter except in case of a tie.

A massacre?

Mayor Tomas Osmeña has been saying BOPK will expel all committee chairpersons who belong to the opposition Barug Team Rama. Could be massive and bloody.

Tomas insists he’s just removing roadblocks and barriers, clearing his path. His rivals see it as a systematic campaign to maim Mike Rama and his party that defeated him in 2013. Whatever the motive, Tomas goes for the jugular and kneecaps and yet doesn’t spare other body parts.

Many Cebuanos don’t seem to mind about the squabble at City Hall. But they must be pissed off by the long-running inefficiency on many basic services (garbage, traffic, bad roads, or health, business artery and mobility), the occasional incompetence (e.g., ready funds unspent), and unchecked and unpunished corruption.

Inevitable

As to opposition Barug, loss of control over the City Council became inevitable when at least three of its members defected. The trump card held until some weeks ago-- Vice Mayor Edgar Labella keeping a stalemate by including himself in the count of voting members-- has not worked.

As we said earlier, Labella is counted as a member only to determine a quorum. He is prohibited from voting except when there’s a tie. More than that, he is bound, the Supreme Court says, to be impartial, “the embodiment of impartiality.”

The SC says the Local Government Code mechanism for vice mayors (and vice governors) in “sanggunians” is aimed at having an impartial presiding officer who will steer the debate, not hobbled by partisan strife.

Explanation

The SC explanation won’t appease Barug and its members but it shows pragmatism. Here’s to break the rationale down:

The VM is elected by the entire city. The councilors are elected by districts and ex-oficio members by their sectors (ABC and KB federation). All members can debate and vote to protect the interest of their constituents. The VM, however, can’t join the debate, unless he steps down as presiding officer, and can’t vote except to break a tie.

The setup has two purposes: maintain the VM’s neutrality in the session and enable him to speed up legislative process.

Playing the game

That doesn’t strip the VM of his partisan stripes. He’s still very much a political animal. But laws, as interpreted by the SC, and House rules intend to make him as fair as can be.

Still, with a still hefty number in the City Council, Team Rama has the clout to provide healthy checks and balance. Or it can pull acts of mischief as BOPK councilors did when the mayor was Mike Rama, Tomas’s archrival.?

Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on July 14, 2017.

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