Sunday, January 20, 2019

Seares: Rama ‘vindicated’ on P20,000 gifts?

“I THANK God, the Sto. Niño. Maybe (it didn’t come soon enough) but better late than never. I am vindicated.”

The ombudsman has cleared former Cebu City mayor Michael Rama of criminal liability for the controversial calamity aid totaling P83.5 million, from which each of the 4,200 City Hall officials and employees was paid P20,000 in 2013.

No evidence that Rama misappropriated it or did anything that constituted malversation, technical malversation or violation of the anti-graft law, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales ruled last week.

The complaint filed on July 3, 2014 by Atty. Reymelio Delute was based on the cash “gift” granted in 2013 following two disasters: the 7.2-magnitude earthquake and super-typhoon Yolanda. The City Hall employees -- including Rama, Vice Mayor Edgar Labella and the councilors -- were deemed disaster victims under the ordinances appropriating the money. (Rama specified bonuses but the City Council called the grant calamity aid.)

Guilty and not

Rama was cleared of the criminal charges Delute filed before the ombudsman. But Mike was earlier found guilty of the administrative complaint also filed by Delute but with the office of the president. Not just against Mike but also the vice mayor and 12 City Council members. Excluded by Delute were Margot Osmeña and Lea Japson who abstained and Richard Osmeña and James Anthony Cuenco who were absent.

What does that mean? That Mike was administratively liable but was not criminally liable.

Not total vindication then. And the part that vindicated him came too late. More than a year after the 2016 election where it could’ve helped his poll numbers.

Punches, puzzlers

Punishment for the wrongful act, his six-month suspension by the president, served on May 17, 2016, was the second punch that sent Rama to the canvass and out the ring, having been knocked down in the polls a few days earlier. The suspension wasn’t actually fully served. As of June 30, 2016, he ran out of term to be suspended from; he was short on votes to get elected and on the months to serve the suspension order.

Many residents must be puzzled over the apparent clash of findings:

● The Commission on Audit (COA) found the cash gifts “illegal” on various counts, including absence of presidential approval and irregularity in reporting as it was categorized as donation when it should’ve been under calamity fund; and

● The ombudsman saw “nothing illegal,” no act that constituted a crime.

Timing in moves

What must amaze us more though is how the president’s office and DILG were apparently used for political ends, not necessarily to hijack justice (no evidence of that) but to control its pace. Timing benefited Rama’s rival; it was superb, though hardly subtle.

Rama was suspended for 60 days on Dec. 10, 2015 for the clearing of Katipunan St. of traffic obstructions, during the crucial run-up to the May 2016 balloting. It was ordered by President Noynoy Aquino and enforced by DILG, powerful political offices that were then controlled by allies of Rama’s enemy. Timing again.

Not of much use

Whatever the merit of each case, suspicions of lever-pulling cannot be ignored. Power is used to maim the enemy, at times more efficiently and cruelly when a politician instigates it.

Vindication? If it was, it was no longer of much value to Mike.
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