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Thursday, March 21, 2019
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Seares: Mandaue hotels case: Conflict in authority of council and mayor

News Sense

IT IS pretty clear what set off the controversy in Mandaue City that now drags members of the business community into the public stage: the election battle between former political allies, Mayor Luigi Quisumbing and Rep. Jonas Cortes.

Had Luigi switched seats again with Jonas—Quisumbing back to Congress and Cortes back to City Hall—there wouldn’t be the heated trading of charges between the two leaders of the city. In 2016, when they made the pact, the agreement wasn’t specific enough or someone broke his promise. The eruption of hostilities started months before the campaign season. Jonas activated his political machinery and even “poached” on Luigi leaders for the barangay and SK elections, The shots were fired, the battle was on.

In return or simultaneously, the mayor went after the congressman’s supporters at City Hall, sacking them or replacing “job order” employees with his own people. The usual moves and counter-moves that political rivals tend to make in the course of battle.

Having access to City Hall documents, Luigi could look into transactions made during Jonas’s three terms. And he did, now with the vision of one looking for ammunition to use against his enemy.

Suspicion of fraud

What would’ve looked as transactions that could be explained or justified would now bristle with what lawyers call “indicias” of fraud. Legal issues could not be discussed intelligently in public forums without the suspicion of under-pricing and grease money.

City-owned lot sold at P50 per square meter when other properties near it would sell for P12,000. City-owned lot leased for P170,000 a month or P12 per sq.m. when it has a lease value of P1,500 to P3,000 per sq.m. Each political camp has its argument: Luigi’s group, citing present market prices when the property is already well developed; Jonas’s group, citing old market prices when the property was still isolated and undeveloped.

Each has its reason for claiming fraud or innocence, whatever promotes its cause.

Core legal issue

In the case of the two hotels and a coffee shop that the mayor wants to shut down for not having the business permit that the owners have applied for, the core legal issue is interesting.

The legal question is similar to the separate cases of then governor Gwen Garcia and incumbent Gov. Junjun Davide.

Gwen said she didn’t need authority of the Provincial Board to spend money for backfilling the Balili property because it was already covered by appropriation. Governor Junjun says no PB approval is required for him to sign the multibillion-peso contract to build the Provincial Resource Center because a previous appropriation had already authorized him.

Approved lease

In the Mandaue controversy, the lease of the lot on which the hotels stand was approved by the City Council. When the right to the lease was assigned by the lessee to hotel owner, then mayor Cortes, representing the city, approved the transfer, relying on the City Council’s previous authority. The Council set the condition that the transfer must be to a subsidiary of the lessee. And that condition was followed.

The Supreme Court already set the guideline for such situations. Mayor Luigi must be familiar with it as he was among the petitioners in the 2008 case that he and three other PB members filed against then governor Gwen (Quisumbing, et al vs. Gwendolyn Garcia, GR #175527).

Re-define boundaries

Political rivalry and clashes cannot be helped. But the law and procedure on conflict of authority between the local executive and legislative body can be made less muddled and confusing.

For starters, lawmakers can redefine the boundaries of authority and make the law more specific and clear.


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