CHARGES have been filed against former Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña, three executive assistants, the head of a constructions company and more than 30 laborers for stripping his office bare before he stepped down last June 30.
The complaints of the City Hall building maintenance official with the ombudsman will determine administrative and criminal liabilities of the former mayor. Those, with the additional charges the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) may file, will look into offenses and sanctions of individuals.
They won’t plug loopholes in the system of renovating offices of elective officials with the use of money or property not paid by the local government.
Private assets used
In both incidents-- Tomas gutting his office and former councilor Mary Ann de los Santos also hauling away her personal properties – it was not clear what governed the use of personal assets in government-owned offices.
There was a DILG memorandum circular, #2019-39, announced last March 24 and repeated last May, creating a “Local Governance Transition Team” to be headed by the local chief executive and his vice chairperson to be picked from among the members: department heads, a DILG representative from the city and one representative from a civil society or people’s organization.
They must have formed the team in Cebu City although pre-inaugural media news stories didn’t mention it. The team’s tasks though were limited to (1) inventory of local government properties, (2) gathering, securing and preserving official documents and contracts, and (3) the turnover ceremony.
The memo-circular didn’t mention about:
• Removal of personal equipment and items earlier added to the office, with the regulators apparently relying on the Civil Code definition of movable and immovable property;
• Ownership of properties that were supposedly donated by private persons to the city government.
Contributed to official or city?
The gray area is on contributions of private persons. An elected public official such as Tomas Osmeña could not legally accept gifts in the form of furniture, fixtures, construction materials. If they were donated for public use (since the office is for public functions), they must have been donated to the City Government, not to the public official as a private person. And the donations must have been accepted by the City Council.
Such contributed properties, which he estimated at totaling P2 million, then belong to the City Government, not to Osmeña. If they were not validly accepted, then they were being used improperly, if not illegally. Anyway, the City should keep them until their true nature is ascertained.
Whatever, local ordinance--if national legislation does not cover the situation yet--needs to clarify the rights of elected officials over private money or properties used to improve their respective offices.
De los Santos case
De los Santos, who ran as Tomas’ running mate and lost, also stripped her office but, she insists, she didn’t strip it to the bone. The tiles and ceilings remained and she even left, she says, two items: a glass partition and a bathroom mirror. So far, there has been no serious talk about suing her.
But the problem remains. De los Santos disclosed to Bobby Nalzaro last July 6 on radio dySS that all other councilors were also doing it: putting private properties in their offices during their service and carting them away when their term is ended.
They are renovating offices and then removing them when they leave City Hall, with no clear rules, or no specific enforcement of those rules..