Team Rama members 'protest'

WITH both the administration and opposition blocs at the Cebu City Council standing firm in their views, it's no surprise for a regular session to last two to three hours, depending on the severity of the business at hand.

But despite a seven-page agenda and a scheduled public hearing, yesterday's regular session did not have the usual intense discussions, adjourning an hour after it started.

That was because the eight councilors of the Barug Team Rama were a no-show.

At 1:30 p.m., the council secretariat read a letter forwarded to them by the opposition councilors, manifesting their protest against the "blatant" calls to oust ex-officio member and Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) president Philip Zafra from the council.

In a privilege speech during last week's regular session, Councilor Sisinio Andales said that Zafra lacks the authority to continue performing his duties as his term may have already expired following a memorandum issued by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), dated Sept. 6.

The DILG said that Republic Act 10923, or the law that postponed the October 2016 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections, directed the holdover of all incumbent barangay officials, without similar extension on their ex-officio representation at the municipal, city and provincial councils.

Mayor Tomas Osmeña, too, has said that Zafra should vacate his seat in the council.

He had announced that Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan will take legal actions to push for the ABC president's removal.

In an earlier report, the mayor gave a brief affirmation when asked if the move to oust Zafra is their way of regaining the majority in the council.

City Legal Officer Joseph Bernaldez has also given opinion on the issue, saying that unless the law expressly states that there is a holdover capacity in his position, Zafra will have to leave.

Bernaldez added that since the full version of the bill that allows the postponement of the SK and barangay elections has yet to be released, the decision as to whether Zafra and other ex-officio members will stay in their respective positions can’t be determined.

Opposition Councilors Joel Garganera, Raymond Alvin Garcia, Edu Rama, Jose Daluz III, Pastor Alcover Jr., James Anthony Cuenco, Zafra and Joy Pesquera found the pronouncements as a "flamboyant parade of bad faith and malice."

"This protest is not an act of abandoning our sacred duty to be the voice of Cebuanos in this hallowed hall. Our protest is but a manifestation of our strong commitment to uphold the independence of this council and the principles if democratic participation, public accountability, checks and balances, and the rule of law," reads a portion of the letter.

Garganera said this will be a one-session protest and that they will all be present again next week. He added that they will be taking legal action in the coming days.

Despite their absence, the council still proceeded with the business at hand.

Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella said they had to proceed without his allies in the opposition to prevent delays in the discussion and/or approval of the resolutions.

Andales, for his part, said he will ask the DILG to look into the situation at the council.

"The ABC should be a non-political entity because it's an independent institution. They have the sworn duty to their constituents to attend the sessions. There is a correct forum for their protest," he said.

Majority floor leader Margarita Osmeña said her colleagues should set aside their personal sentiments and improve their performances, instead of "running away."

As a councilor and the mayor's wife, she said she is in a "peculiar situation,” but that does not supersede her duties in the legislative department.

Meanwhile, DILG 7 Director Rene Burdeos, when asked if the councilors' absence constituted a violation, said the definition of offenses is up to the council's house rules. (With RVC)
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