Friday July 20, 2018

Seares: Labella ‘must be impartial’

“Logically, the vice governor (or, in Cebu City’s controversy, the vice mayor) shall be the embodiment of impartiality.”
-- Supreme Court, Javier & Piccio vs. Cadiao, et. al.

FIRST on the dispute between BOPK, the Osmea group, and Barug Team Rama over how to count numbers in the Cebu City Council.

If DILG, to which the feuding parties agreed to refer the controversy, would rely on the Supreme Court ruling in Javier & Piccio vs. Cadiao, et. al. [GR #185369, Aug. 3, 2016], it would adjudge BOPK the majority party in the City Council and pave the way to the revamp that Barug has tried to block.

Part of, but cannot

The Javier & Piccio case involves the Provincial Board of Antique but the issue on limits to the right of the vice governor (VG) matches with the current feud in Cebu City’s “sanggunian.”

The SC in Javier & Piccio ruled that the VG shall be considered part of the provincial board for quorum purposes. But to determine if there’s a majority vote, the VG is not counted. The VG’s right to vote is “merely contingent” and he can vote only when a tie ensues.

Applied to the local squabble, Vice Mayor (VM) Edgar Labella is a member of the City Council and is counted to determine a quorum. But when the council votes on a matter, such as an overhaul of committees, he’s excluded. He cannot vote unless there’s a tie.

Vice mayor’s role

You know what, this political bickering has turned the spotlight on the role of city or town vice mayor or, in provinces, the vice governor.

Most of us, including the partisans in the City Council, must think that since Labella is a Barug Team Rama stalwart (the party’s highest elected official), as VM, he can openly defend his party’s interest when he presides the council.

Labella cannot. His hands are tied. Or so the high court says.

Principally on voting. He can’t vote except in a deadlock. But here’s more--as La Carlota City vs. Negros Occidential [GR #181367, April 24, 2012] laid it down and Piccio vs. Cadio affirmed it-- the #2 official who presides over the council must be impartial, “the embodiment of impartiality” no less.

Guide for VM

The general prohibition to vote is the reason for, and part of, the mechanism that requires the presiding officer to be “impartial.” Or so the high court says, as explained by Associate Justice Arturo Brion in La Carlota and cited in Javier & Piccio.

The theory, obscured and never highlighted in local politics before now, may not please politicians who need to use their positions to help strengthen their party. But it’s there and serves as basis for courts to resolve conflicts.

And, not the least, it serves as guide for the VM’s conduct in the City Council. Barug may realize that Labella as presiding officer cannot be as partisan as his party may want him to be.