THE good news is that Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña has found his voice again. But will it not bring him into more trouble with President Duterte?
If you will recall, the President severely scolded Osmeña at least twice in Cebu, the first one on Aug. 30 this year when he graced the charter day anniversary celebration of Mandaue City. In his speech, Duterte accused Osmeña of being proud and arrogant and threatened to slap him if their paths should cross.
The Cebu City mayor shied away from any media interview after that, choosing to occasionally pour out his thoughts on Facebook instead. It was widely believed that Osmeña’s self-imposed silence was meant to avoid aggravating his strained relations with the President while mutual friends were trying to repair the damage.
At that time, there were talks that Osmeña was going to be suspended in relation to one or two of the many cases filed against him, the latest of which arose from his claiming custody from the police of two men who had been arrested for selling banned butane canisters.
The talk was that Duterte had signed or had authorized the signing of the order suspending Osmeña but its service was held in abeyance upon the request of his friends who are also close to the President. The names of the chief presidential counsel and a Cebu businessman were mentioned as among those who interceded in Osmeña’s behalf.
If such were indeed the case, then Osmeña’s strategy worked. No suspension order has been released until now even as the period of the election ban on suspensions is drawing near.
Just two days before Christmas Day, however, the mayor did something that can be interpreted as breaking his unilateral truce. In a speech before some 6,000 habal-habal and Angkas drivers at the Cebu City Sports Center, Osmeña said: “But what is going on with our government? They’re promoting federalism but is it federalism when officials based in Manila decide on what the people in the countryside should do without listening to them?”
While Osmeña did not mention Duterte by name, his criticism can easily be perceived as directed at the latter. After all, not only is Duterte the head of the national government, he is the known champion of the federalism movement in the country.
Osmeña’s assertion is also not entirely correct. The law that impliedly bans the operation of the habal-habal is an old one. And while the Land Transportation Office and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board are the ones that are tasked to enforce the ban, it was another branch of government - the judiciary - that cleared the way for its implementation.
Osmeña knows this, too. A few days earlier, he announced that he had spoken to the two Cebu City congressmen, Raul del Mar and Bebot Abellanosa, to work for the enactment of a law legitimizing the habal-habal and Angkas. Indeed, as we have repeatedly said, the remedy lies with Congress, not anywhere else and definitely not in the Cebu City Sports Center oval.
Since the President’s top man in Cebu, Mike Dino, is a personal enemy of Osmeña, we can expect the mayor’s latest dig to reach Duterte’s ears. And because the President’s reaction is almost predictable, we can only wonder what Osmeña’s reason was in providing the aggravation. Is he ready to tangle with Duterte this time?