RECENT CRITICISMS on failure of Cebu City Hall to fill hundreds of vacant regular or “plantilla” positions and propensity to hire casual or job order workers instead:

[1] Last Wednesday, August 17, the City Council asked that regular or “plantilla” positions in most of the 27 departments at City Hall be filled. Councilor Joel Garganera deplored that only three of 14 posts requiring technical persons at the city’s Centro are filled, the rest are still vacant, thus disabling the office to answer questions of the Sanggunian and the public on environmental concerns.

Councilor Rey Gealon amended the motion to include all the other departments, most of which, he said, have unfilled plantilla positions. Gealon cited that as cause for the city’s Legal Office to be “bombarded” with cases from the Civil Service Office on what appear to be serial omissions and violations by City Hall.

[2] The Commission on Audit’s (COA) review of 2021 transactions of the Cebu City Government noted that on record that there were 2,320 regular positions available and the Civil Service Commission (CSC) had made repeated reminders and rejections on serial violations of the law and the rules.

Instead of complying, COA said, in its audit published July 21, 2022, Cebu City hired 3,740 casuals who performed duties falling under “plantilla” positions. Casual appointments shall be issued “only for essential and necessary services” when there are not enough regular workers. They’re only for “emergencies” and “intermittent periods” not exceeding one year, COA said, citing CSC’s omnibus rules on appointments.

[RELATED STORY: July 25, 2022 Explainer: COA slams hiring of casuals by Cebu City hall and ‘cycle of open violations’ dating back to Tomas Osmena’s term in 2008. Sharp rise in 2021: 3,740 hired as 2,320 plantilla positions stay vacant.]

WHY MAYORS PREFER CASUALS. In a January 10, 2012 news story – during the first term (2010-2013) of Michael “Mike” Rama as mayor -- he told the Inquirer the number of City Hall’s unfilled regular positions reached 1,000 because his three-term, immediate predecessor Tomas Osmeña “showed insecurities” by refusing the employment of regular employees. Tomas, Mike said, “lived with his policy” that it was better to hire casuals “who can be easily terminated” if they don’t perform what is expected of them. The said expectation would usually include casuals voting, or being pressured to vote, for candidates of the ruling party that gave them the job.

COA noted though that the number of casuals at City Hall rose to almost 4,000 in 2021, during the 2019-2022 term of the Edgardo Labella-Mike Rama administration, for which Rama was partly responsible as vice mayor, then as acting mayor and finally full-fledged mayor in the latter half of Labella’s term, during which he became ill and passed away.

RAMA’S STANCE. Before his first term as mayor was to end on June 30, 2013, Mike Rama publicly announced on January 10, 2012 that he wanted about 1,000 plantilla positions filled. Juvy Morellos, chief of the Human Resources Development Office at the time, wasn’t sure if it could follow Rama’s order since there was an employment ban coming as part of Comelec preparations for the following year’s elections. Rama said at the time he wanted Tomas Osmeña’s “mentality” about casuals changed.

And Rama later would have the chance to change the policy as he won in 2013. He lost in 2016 but returned as vice mayor to Labella in 2019. Since then, he has not been as vocal about the casuals as he was in 2012. After his fresh mandate began last June 30 though, he said more than once that he’d weed out the dishonest, the lazy and other undesirables from the ranks of City Hall’s work force.

Rama must have been referring to casuals and “job-order” workers whose terms are limited and not protected by Civil Service right to tenure and due process. But he hasn’t been as specific anymore as he was 10 years ago.

‘REALLY HARD’ TO FILL. There’s a political advantage in hiring casuals: they can be “hostage” voters and the employment can be the convenient means to reward campaign support. But getting the right people for the “plantilla” positions can be hard.

In the past, the Personnel Selection Board was heard to complain that it’s difficult to look for people who meet the qualifications and standards. Those with service eligibility who are qualified for jobs requiring technical and other special skills would rather seek better-paying, wider-opportunity employment elsewhere. Getting the personnel Councilor Garganera wants for the city’s Cenro may not be easy picking.

FATE OF COUNCIL REQUEST. Would the request of the City Council, contained in the resolution moved by Councilors Garganera and Gealon, persuade Mayor Rama to finally end the practice of keeping the regular positions vacant and hiring casuals instead? Would the Sanggunian prodding be more effective than the COA rebuke in its 2021 audit?

The appointing power, the mayor or the chief executive, decides. The City Council can only ask. So many resolutions and ordinances have been sent to the mayor’s office. And so many requests have been ignored: the councilors said last August 10 they have no idea about the number of rejections.

As to the CSC and COA, which have been critical of the city’s performance on appointments, they have impressed the public more about their bark than their bite. The mayors, past and present, seem to be getting away with the “open” and repetitive violations.