ATTACK ON P50M AID TO QUAKE-STRUCK LGUs. Cebu City Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos, in a privileged speech Wednesday, August 17, criticized the amount of P50 million as aid for earthquake-hit local governments in northern Luzon, which the City Council earlier approved in a special session. De los Santos called it “misplaced display of charity,” considering, she said, there are still four months left of the year when disaster could strike Cebu City.

Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival harped on the remaining balance of the city’s disaster quick-response fund, pushing for the appearance of the city treasurer and the city accountant to tell the councilors the exact cash in hand under the account.

Archival told Explainer Friday, August 19, he wanted the two officials to appear before the Sanggunian so as to make official what he said they told him, namely, that the remaining amount under the disaster fund was “only P8 million.” In Wednesday’s session, when Archival mentioned the P8 million, Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera retorted that if he already knew the amount, there would be no more need for the treasurer to come and tell them.

THE TREASURER’S WORD. The information in writing from City Treasurer Mare Vae Reyes arrived amid the discussion, cutting off the debate and prompting Archival to withdraw his motion for the treasurer’s and accountant’s appearance.

In a letter dated August 17 and addressed to Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia -- a copy of which was obtained by Explainer Friday, August 19 -- Treasurer Reyes said the cash balance of the so-called Disaster Fund, as of August 22, was P201,073, 346.51.

Not P8 million, which Archival had told the Sanggunian before the treasurer’s letter arrived. And bigger than the amount of less than P100 million, which Disaster Council chief Gerry Carillo, in the August 12 special session, told the City Council would be left after paying off the P50 million cash aid to Luzon and the additional amount still due to victims of recent disasters in Cebu City.

The P201.07 million was “the actual balance,” Treasurer Reyes wrote to Garcia, the money left after the “actual payments and fund transfers” under the Local Disaster Trust Fund Account at Landbank.

QUESTIONS THAT HANG. [1] Did the treasurer and the accountant mislead Archival on the P8M-balance version, or did the minority floor leader mishear what the two officials told him?

[2] Who set the original P10.5 million in the certification asked for by the City Council and accordingly given? It was later revised to P50 million but it wasn’t ascertained why or how the city treasurer came up with the original P10.5 million.

NO STANDARD ON CHARITY. With the clarification on the sums of money involved, would Councilor de los Santos revise her opinion on the amount of cash aid for Abra City, which got the bulk of P25 million? Would the grant to the Luzon earthquake victims still be “a misplaced display of charity”?

Yet in the absence of a standard on the amount the City can give outside its jurisdiction, there may be no easy answer to that. How much must the City have in the disaster fund or in its coffers to give some of it to help victims of calamities in other cities and towns of the country?

ONE-FUND CONCEPT. On the minority’s worry of not having enough for the city’s own disasters, Treasurer Reyes noted that the 2022 disaster fund is “consolidated” with the “general fund proper account” under the “One Fund” concept. Meaning, the City Council may approve a supplementary budget for any emergency that may arise between now and the yearend.

In assessing charity to non-Cebuano victims of disaster, the minority may need to ascertain too the remaining balance of the general fund.

WHAT’S NEXT. Councilor Archival may no longer press for the disaster fund figures. As of Friday, August 19, he said he still didn’t have the information, conceding to Explainer “there’s a document” but they “didn’t discuss the contents” and he still had to check. Even if the treasurer affirmed Archival’s earlier P8-million-balance version, the grant was “an accomplished fact,” Mayor Mike Rama himself already delivered the checks to the recipients.

Besides, nothing more could be done to reverse the decision, in the same way the minority could not reduce the amount of aid in the first place. Obviously, the minority, through Archival and de los Santos, was only appealing to the “good sense” of the majority, at the same time rousing public opinion against “imprudent” spending.