THE SITUATION. Each session of the Cebu City Sanggunian approves an average of 65 resolutions but most councilors don’t know how many of them produce results, particularly those that seek information or clarification on events or issues from people within or outside City Hall.

That must be particularly disturbing and annoying if the knowledge sought is needed for legislation and the would-be resource person ignoring the City Council request is a City Hall official.

SUCCESS OR FAILURE. To Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr., not knowing “success” or “failure” of the councilors’ work is frustrating, perhaps even more vexing than not getting what they ask for.

Last Wednesday, August 10, Archival poked into a small hornet’s nest after Majority Floor Leader Joyce Pesquera moved to note some resolutions of the immediately preceding 15th Sanggunian, which the mayor had approved.

Archival said he wanted the secretariat to give councilors a running total of resolutions acted upon by the mayor or department head concerned, so they’ll know the “success or failure” of their “output.” Apparently though, he must be irked over government officials not heeding the Sanggunian’s requests, which led to the subject of contempt as a legislative sanction.

SUGGESTIONS. The clutch of proposals included these:

Vice Mayor Raymond Garcia, presiding officer, submitted the phrase “cumulative report,” which Councilor Pesquera suggested the secretariat could flash on the screen even before the session. Councilor Philip Zafra proposed that the secretariat have a liaison person who monitors and “follows through” the status of resolutions: time of receipt and response. Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos recommended a timeline in the flow of the resolution after passage.

Secretariat chief Atty. Charisse Piramide said a system of tracking, which her office requested in 2021, is being “fine-tuned” by City Hall’s Management Information and Computer Services (Mics). She also raised the idea of adding to the job of the City Council’s committee on oversight the implementation of resolutions, not just ordinances. On delivery of copies of passed resolutions, Atty. Piramide assured a “99 percent” performance.

CONTEMPT, SEPARATION OF POWERS. But what drew some heat from Archival was the question of having the power to hold persons in contempt.

Pesquera suggested that Councilor Archival urge by resolution for Congress to enact a bill that provides power of contempt against anyone who ignores or refuses a Sanggunian order. Councilor Rey Gealon waded in, mentioning not just the power of contempt – the City Council has none, he said – but also the high-sounding “Trias Politica,” which calls for “a strict separation” between three branches of government.

Archival said he didn’t speak of any power of contempt, so why should Councilor Gealon raise it, obviously skipping the point that absence of such power precisely explains why Sanggunian requests were not being taken seriously. We have no teeth, figuratively said Councilor de los Santos. While Archival wondered why department heads wouldn’t answer inquiries from the City Council, he sounded displeased by the two lawyer-councilors’ explanation of the law.

SUPREME COURT’S REASON WHY. Local legislatures such as the Cebu City Council or the Cebu Provincial Board or the town Sanggunians are not expressly given by the Constitution or the Local Government Code the power to subpoena witnesses and the power to punish a non-member. (The Sanggunian may punish “contumacious behavior” of its own member.)

“That (power) cannot be implied,” the Supreme Court said in Negros Oriental Electric Cooperative II vs. Dumaguete Sangguniang Panlungsod (GR #72492 of Nov. 5, 1987), “in the statutory grant of delegated legislative power or deemed to exist as mere incident of the performance of legislative functions.” There must be a law, as Pesquera commented. Otherwise, the exercise “would run afoul of the doctrine” of separation of powers or, in the term Gealon loved to use, Trias Politica.

No councilor mentioned it but a plausible reason why a department head or other City Hall official may delay or ignore a request for information is that it might embarrass his office or the current administration.

WHERE STONEWALLING OCCURS. Most resolutions seeking clarification on City Hall matters are initiated by the minority Bando Osmeña–Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK) but not blocked by the majority Barug.

The majority generally allows the requests. Barug councilors don’t want to be seen as obstructionists to information, especially when it’s needed for legislation. Apparently, the stonewalling that Councilor Archival gripes about is done at the source, at the offices, by department heads, or the mayor and his aides themselves.

THEY DON’T KNOW, DO THEY? Here’s the thing though: Archival cannot cite the number of times that resolutions were disobeyed or disregarded, since he doesn’t have the statistics, that’s why he’s asking for them. The councilors, Archival said -- and no one disputed him -- they don’t know if they’re answered or snubbed, whether they succeeded or failed..

Or most councilors don’t do the basic homework, such as using each Sanggunian member’s staff to trace and watch the progress of legislation, even if just one’s own resolutions. Secretariat chief Piramide told them Wednesday there are logs that provide the flow. Apparently, that’s not enough; the data must be directly served every session.

Start with “every other session,” VM Garcia advised the secretariat, taking up Pesquera’s cue of reviving a system of “ legislative tracking” that the majority floor-leader, a veteran of past Sanggunians, said enabled the Cebu City Council to win in 2007 the title of “Best Legislative Body,” a Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) competition. Pesquera and her staff reportedly compiled the required documents covering the Sanggunian’s three-month performance.