WHAT JUST HAPPENED. The disruption of a Catholic Mass celebrated at Carbon Market in Cebu City Monday morning, July 18, 2022, amid the eviction of market vendors from their current location was raised before the City Council Wednesday, July 20.

During its regular session, Minority Floorleader Nestor Archival Sr. in a privileged speech said he wanted the market operations division (MOD) chief to answer in person the complaint of disruption and the demolition of stalls, particularly the “process used,” which must not have been explained to the vendors, causing the resistance and, in Archival’s description, “chaos” in Carbon.

The “driving away” of the vendors was first brought to public attention Tuesday, July 19 by the official statement of Fr. Nazario “Ace” L. Vocales, vicar of Cebu Archdiocese’s Social Advocacies Commission.

Fr. Vocales alleged “some employees” of the Cebu City Government and Megawide Construction Corp., the developer, played “loud music to disrupt the solemnity” of the Mass. He called it “gross disrespect” of the Mass and asked the City Government to take action against the persons involved. Vocales said it wasn’t enough that the demolition of stalls was unjust and insensitive to the plight of the suffering vendors. They disrespected the religious activity as well.

Councilor Archival used the vicar’s complaint and his visit to Carbon Market, Warwick Barracks and Freedom Park to justify his call for the head of the market operations division to appear before the Sanggunian and explain.

Majority Floorleader Jocelyn Pesquera blocked Archival’s motion to invite the MOD chief, which the voting killed, and replaced it with her version: to require Cenas to explain in writing one week from that day, July 20. Archival’s speech will be attached to the Sanggunian order.

MOD CHIEF NOT NAMED. No councilor mentioned the name of the market operations division in the resolution or during discussion of the issue Wednesday, but he was earlier identified in two media reports as City Markets Administrator Wendell “Wayne” Cenas.

Cenas was quoted as saying they “are firm” about removing the stalls of ambulant vendors “to a better location” since they were already given “multiple notices.” The clearing of the road started Friday, July 15. A market vendors cooperative, Carbon Market Vendors Development Cooperative (Cemvedco), said that about 80 of its “legitimate” members lost their stalls.

THE NEW RULE. In the preceding City Council, the 15th Sanggunian, Archival’s motion would’ve been readily passed. What’s with a division head being summoned before the councilors and asked questions? It would’ve been routine in the Sanggunian of 2019-2022.

Not anymore in the 16th Sanggunian (2022-2025). Under revised House rules approved during its July 6 inaugural session, a City Hall official or employee may be summoned to a City Council executive session or a public hearing. In all other cases, he or she may be required only to explain in writing.

Apparently, opposition councilors were clueless about the new rules. Councilor Joy Augustus Young (BOPK) asked if that means they couldn’t invite a department head or anyone else to appear before the City Council. Yes, said Majority Floorleader Pesquera, who then explained the new rule. Young’s colleague at BOPK, Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos, asked if it would require a majority vote. Councilor Pesquera said yes, without saying what it means: majority Barug decides when to call an executive session and, in a public hearing required by law, whom to invite.

REASON FOR THE CHANGE was not given to the councilors who didn’t know the new rule’s impact. An attempt by Councilor Franklyn Ong (BOPK) to find out was shut down by neophyte Councilor Rey Gealon (Barug) who said the body was in the midst of voting on Archival’s motion. Earlier, Gealon also stopped Archival, saying the House rules were already approved. Pesquera herself didn’t go beyond saying that Archival, or anyone else, could sue the market chief for any violation.

The motive though is apparent: the administration party wouldn’t want public airing of allegations of negligence, incompetence or even corruption at the Sanggunian session, which is streamed and recorded on Facebook.

During a recess last Wednesday, before the microphone was shut off and broadcast could be paused, Archival said the appearance of the markets chief would enable the public to watch and listen to the explanation. It wasn’t known if the answer to that by the majority included this: Precisely, we don’t want dirty linen displayed in public.

HOW MUCH, WHEN PUBLIC WILL KNOW. For the market chief’s explanation, the public will know only when the Sanggunian Secretariat is allowed to release the document.

The minority though may raise it at a succeeding session and thus publicize it, together with its criticism of the market chief’s answer. It may again ask for a rejoinder to be sent to the market chief. Even if the majority will allow it, it will take at least another week to get the market chief’s answer to follow-up questions. Councilors Archival and de los Santos cited the limits to the discourse, which could take the wind out of an issue or kill it.

MINORITY MAY CHANGE TACK in getting information. Instead of just fishing for data from so-called resource persons invited to the City Council, BOPK councilors may dig out the facts themselves.

Earlier, in a special session last July 15, Councilor Young complained of proponents of a resolution or ordinance not supporting it with the required information, making up for the omission with promise to submit it later (“i-apas lang”). We are not doing our job, which may be an excuse for newbies, Young said, but not for old-timers in the Sanggunian.

With the rule stacked up against the minority, on top of the cruel majority rule, BOPK may just have to be more diligent in getting the facts and not rely on the scrounging for data from a summoned or invited person.

Individually, councilors, through consultants and other staff, may ask for information from the City Hall department concerned. Perhaps access to information by legislators is not yet restricted.