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Monday, July 26, 2021
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EXPLAINER: Did Niña Mabatid explode prematurely over Alvin Dizon’s comment on JO workers? Councilors feud off-Council, off-season.

Screengrabbed from Facebook posts of Councilors Niña Mabatid and Alvin Dizon.

SEVEN TAKEAWAYS on what newspapers described as a “bickering” and “verbal tussle” between Partido Barug’s Councilor Prisca Niña Mabatid and BOPK’s Alvin Dizon over the issue of job order (JO) workers at Cebu City Hall:

What started it

[1] In the Friday, June 4 public hearing on Supplemental Budget 1, Dizon recommended that instead of hiring more JO employees, department heads “should maximize the availability” of regular and casual employees. One department, the city’s SWS (social welfare and services), which already has 1,667 JO workers, wants to hire more. The money saved from not hiring will augment social services and other essential programs, Dizon said.

Six days later, June 10, in a poster-style feed on Facebook, Mabatid told the opposition not to “touch the job orders” and to “stop politicking.” “Who would not react,” she told SunStar Friday, June 11. “Ang job orders sa City Hall gyud ang gi-suggest (ni Dizon) nga tangtangon”.

What he did, Dizon told SunStar also on Friday, was to suggest to the department heads, “Kong puwede ba i-reduce.” Apparently, he also wanted the regular and casual workers to work more so as to reduce the need for more JOs.

“The government should not be an employment agency.”

Mabatid disagreed. She said that for now there is a lack of JOs. Those already working as JOs should not be stripped of their job. Only the government, which she said is rich, can help ease the unemployment during the health crisis.

Politics in the quarrel

[2] Necessarily, both Mabatid and Dizon are driven by political interest. What each does or says is unavoidably linked to how it will affect the 2022 elections. Many people were just surprised by the salvo from Mabatid, given that it was off-Sanggunian and off-season.

She could’ve answered Dizon’s recommendation at the budget hearing. She is a legislator and the better way and time for her sentiment to persuade the finance committee to keep and even increase the number of JOs was to make it on record at the hearing. Majority Floorleader and finance committee head Raymond Garcia said it would note Dizon’s observations.

Both councilors were eyeing the impact on voters: Mabatid with her purported concern for the jobless poor during the pandemic. Dizon with his purported concern for prudent spending during the health crisis. Interestingly, that concern was also expressed by Mayor Edgardo Labella who noted in September 2019 that City Hall has “too many” casual and JO workers. He made the comment after Civil Service Commission-7 personnel, working undercover, confirmed that many city employees were not doing their job.

Mabatid’s hype on social media could be due to her wish to make a splash on public opinion, which may boost her ratings in surveys that guide Barug leaders in picking candidates for 2022.

Lack of facts on job orders

[3] Mabatid said City Hall lacks job order workers (“Grabe ka daghan ang load tungod sa pandemic”). Dizon said the number can be reduced by more effective utilization of City Hall’s work force.

Yet neither councilor gives hard data on JO workers. The mayor and the City Council apparently rely on what the department heads recommend – and what key political advisers tell them how to tap that sector of City Hall workers for the next elections.

The City is not an employment agency but all administrations consider the City Hall labor force as a useful voting bloc. The mayor can employ JOs, for not more than six months each time, without the need of Civil Service approval: a convenient place to reward political supporters and expect captive votes. The workers are supposedly hired for specific projects authorized by the Sanggunian; unsurprisingly, some councilors reportedly get JO “quota” from the mayor.

Dizon said the City Council, on motion of Minority Floorleader Nestor Archival, once requested the mayor for a list of JOs hired by the city; none was given, Dizon said. Dizon estimated that the City spends P15 million to P20 million a month just for DSWS, listed with 1,667 JO workers. The extent of the spending and the number of JOs remain undisclosed.

Pandemic as justification

[4] The health crisis is used by both councilors to support their respective stand.

Mabatid said City Hall must keep the JOs and pay their salaries because she wants to help the poor, especially during the pandemic. (“Pobre na daan, tiwasan pa gyud.”) Dizon wanted prudence in spending on additional JOs so that the saving can be spent for other essential needs of the pandemic.

The pandemic is the justification for the spending. The fear of some fiscalizers in the City Council is that the use of public funds can be irregular or illegal, even unconscionable, if prudence is not used. The mindset of those who decide on hiring JOs appears to be, All systems go, the pandemic makes everything all right.

Who’s being anti-poor?

[5] Dizon’s advocacy for prudent spending is not inconsistent with helping the poor. The poor can be helped more by the savings. Besides, Dizon’s legislative record has focused on social development work for almost two decades, “advancing the rights of the urban poor and other marginalized sectors.” Since 2010, he had passed several pro-poor, rights-based and progressive measures. His track record as a local legislator in the past eight years, he said, “speaks for itself.”

The quarrel has sharply defined Mabatid’s style of direct dole-out to the less privileged: foodstuff, medicines, wheelchairs, and the like, and personally reaching out there to her constituents. Less on “arguing for the sake of arguing” and “talking nonsense,” which she said she does not like (but plainly cannot apply to Dizon who is known for succinct comments on relevant points). A neophyte, as she joined the Sanggunian only in 2019, Mabatid claimed she is “learning very fast” under her “coach and mentor” to guide her.

Legislator or executive?

[6] While Dizon has been doing mostly legislative work, Mabatid has been doing much executive functions, or more specifically, the work of the mayor who must go out and personally hand out the goodies from the local government. Niña even expressed disdain for Sanggunian talking, forgetting that a legislator legislates and must communicate to push through with one’s agenda of development through ordinances and resolutions.

Mabatid told SunStar, “I can be a good mayor.” But there’s seniority in politics and she has to follow party decisions. She can also be a good congresswoman, she said. “if given the chance by my party.” She deplored that many are competing for the slot when they were hiding during the height of the pestilence. “There’s one actor who just surfaced but was not seen during the pandemic,” obviously referring to TV star Richard Yap who lost to the late Raul Del Mar in 2019 Cebu City north but wants to run again.

In contrast, Dizon told SunStar it’s not in his “trajectory to seek higher elective post for 2022,” and he’s also not being considered by his party.

Issues in next election

[7] If the thrust of Mabatid indicates anything, the ruling party Barug believes it is their performance during the health crisis the voters will consider more heavily.

Mabatid, citing her performance in the first 700 days as councilor, shows her work on the field, not in the session hall of the Sanggunian. Her focus on spending and spending for the poor shows the administration is willing to be faulted for excessive spending. rather than deficient spending.

Dizon and Minority Floorleader Archival have been harping on prudence and the absence of irregularity or corruption. Their demand for accounting on P3.5 billion in lump sums spent on the response to Covid-19 exemplifies that thrust. The mayor has ignored it, leaving it to COA to do the review. Expectedly, that will top the issues debated during the campaign.

Mabatid’s blast against the opposition was off-Sanggunian, as it was not raised within the local legislature. It was also off-season, as the election period (January 9 to June 8, 2022) and the campaign period for local posts (March 25 to May 7, 2022) are still months away.


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