Seares: How the Cebu City Hall may correct flawed ties between 2 Sinulog bodies

THE relation between Sinulog Foundation Inc. (SFI) and Sinulog Governing Board (SGB) has a defect that stands out and screams “There’s something wrong here.”

SGB, created on Aug. 23, 2019 by Mayor Edgar Labella’s executive order, is given the “primary role of organizing and overseeing” the annual Sinulog festival. The mayor called it a mechanism for “checks and balances.” SGB, led by the mayor, has 24 members, most of whom are government officials, including the Cebu governor. The mayor appoints eight members while five trustees of SFI, two Cebu City councilors, the city police chief, and the city schools superintendent will be the other members.

The source of the flaw is that SGB is a public body while SFI is a private foundation. The Securities and Exchange Commission regulates and watches over private foundations. It’s not City Hall’s job.

Cebu City’s stake

But Cebu City has a huge interest in Sinulog, which is the cultural and civic part of the annual fiesta in the city, for which it annually spends a lot of money, reportedly P30 million this year. (The Catholic Church, principally the Agustinian order that manages the Sto. Nino Basilica, handles the religious aspect of the festivity.)

City Hall must want to see its money well spent and apparently it wants to do more. Seeing no “clear accounting” of funds raised from the private sector, it decided, under Mayor Labella, to oversee SFI operations. But could the E.O. creating the SGB confer that authority?

SFI and City Hall money

City Hall could set a condition for the grant of its money, such as a prompt accounting and audit. But the city fund for Sinulog, it turned out, for many years already has not been actually turned over to SFI. The city treasurer’s office keeps the money and issues checks to payees specified by SFI, mostly winners of cash prizes in Sinulog’s various competitions, usually on Monday after mardi gras Sunday. Actually and technically, SFI hasn’t been touching the city’s money.

The reason for that practice is COA’s insistence that Cebu City cannot donate funds to Sinulog Foundation where some of its officers are also city officials. This year, one SFI director , Vice Mayor Mike Rama, is also presiding officer of the City Council that appropriates the money.

The conflict-of-interest ban produces the roundabout manner of providing SFI with money. At the same time, it highlights the incongruity of SFI officials deciding—and then of being overturned by the mayor—on contracts on sponsorship and advertising, which under the existing setup are routinely matters of concern to the private foundation only.

Selling more

SFI granted “exclusive rights” to (1) MyTV to cover the Sinulog closing program at the grand stage of Cebu City Sports Complex and (2) to San Miguel Foods Inc. to sell its products at specified crowd-intensive places.

Apparently, SFI wanted to raise more funds, which sets off questions on whether it was needed by its activities or the marketing arm was commission-driven. The foundation, a non-profit or a non-business enterprise, needs just enough for the Sinulog activities. Or is it into a lot of other things too?

Oversight device

Clearly, the creation of SGB tells us that the mayor cannot leave the SFI and some people in the foundation, on their own, by themselves. The oversight device, questionable as it is, came late and didn’t cover sensitive issues, such as the grant of contracts that clash with the mayor’s policies.

The investigation the mayor promised must include the correction of the structure on managing the Sinulog.

The mayor and the City Council may study the option of creating a commission that will do the oversight functions the mayor wants: Maybe a smaller group that will look into aspects of Sinulog that direct involve or affect the city: Such as traffic and crowd control, cleanup before and after the festival, use of city facilities and services and the like. The crucial part is that City Hall must lay down policy, which would control participation by private individuals or groups in the management of Sinulog.

Special body on Sinulog

When then mayor Tomas Osmena ordered on July 22, 2016 to an audit of City Hall’s special bodies, only did the public realize there were 57 of them—boards, committees , commissions and councils—that were created mostly by ordinance, a few by mayor’s E.O., on various special concerns of the city. And none was on or about Sinulog.

A commission on Sinulog will put up front and center the city administration’s interest in the important civic and cultural activity.

City Hall should assume control of Sinulog, with only certain specified tasks entrusted to SFI or another private group. It doesn’t have to hide its control in the guise of checks and balance. With its own commission, public funds can be appropriated directly for the special body.

The City Council may create the commission, defining its control over activities that involve the city, with the authority to enter into partnership with a private group or groups. It has to study the structure carefully and not rush things, as they must have in creating the SGB.


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