THE Cebu City Council Wednesday, September 7, 2022, deferred approval of the payment of more than P54 million for the rental of vehicles and other expenses during the pandemic and after Typhoon Odette. The reason: conflicting pieces of information on the city’s funds for disaster response.

WHICH IS WHICH. Treasurer Mare Vae Reyes had certified on paper that funds were available, per document supplied to some city councilors for Wednesday’s regular session. But in the morning of the same day, in an executive session, the treasurer supposedly told the Sanggunian she was wrong and would revise her CAF (certification on availability of funds), a requirement for charging of payments. Or so Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos (BOPK) told her colleagues.

De los Santos’s point: The amount to be charged is P54 million-plus but the available fund to pay it with is only P47 million-plus. In the first place, the “available” P47 million-plus is already a trust fund, which would require a “modified” annual investment plan (AIP) to be used. De los Santos in effect said the treasurer admitted error in computing the trust fund from the disaster relief appropriation from 2014 to 2022, instead of 2018 to 2021.

Barug Councilor Joel Garganera, sponsor of the measure, said an investment plan couldn’t be submitted before the calamity or disaster. His party-mate Noel Wenceslao cited the treasurer’s certification while de los Santos, who said she wasn’t given a copy of it, stood firm on what she claimed the treasurer told the City Council at the executive session that morning.

Councilor Joy Young fretted over the quarrel about the state of the finances, which only the treasurer could resolve: Why would they quarrel over it (“nganong mag-away man ta unsay gisulti sa treasurer”).

NOT THE FIRST TIME. It wasn’t the first time in recent weeks that councilors tangled over available funds certified by the treasurer. In the August 17 debate on whether the City should donate P50 million cash to local governments in Luzon whose constituents were struck by the July 27 earthquake, the treasurer first certified to only P10 million-plus but later sent in mid-session a P50 million CAF.

It hasn’t been explained how the treasurer last August first certified to P10 million-plus, which she later raised to P50 million. This time, in another issue of cash-out, the question hangs on whether Councilor de los Santos got right what she reported to the Sanggunian as the treasurer’s position, which contradicted her certification in writing.

The public would have to wait for information that comes out in installments from the City Council. On her claim in her August privilege speech that the City was cash-strapped and had only P8 million as quick relief fund, it would seem that Wednesday morning’s executive session proved her right. “A misplaced display of charity,” de los Santos said then, arguing with Councilor Archival that if disaster struck in the last four months of the year, it would’ve pittance to cope with it.

FLOW OF INFORMATION has been considerably slowed down by the new House rule (starting last July, under the 16th Sanggunian) that the City Council may only require a City Hall official to answer questions in writing or before an executive session.

In Wednesday’s session, Councilor Joel Garganera (Barug) wanted to call City Hall resource persons who were in the other room adjoining the session hall to answer questions on the calamity spending that Garganera wanted to be paid. Among the questions: why the use of vehicles was touted to be free when it cost the City P40 million.

Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. foiled Garganera, citing the House rule that in earlier sessions stopped him from inviting officials who can inform the councilors on issues brought before the local legislature.

BAN ON MINORITY. Actually, the ban is effective only against the minority BOPK, which cannot muster the two-thirds vote required to suspend the rules before an invitee can speak before the City Council. The majority can go around the ban if it wants to.

The minority may still confront city officials but in a closed-door setting, with no live-streaming or recording for the public. In other instances, it can only “request” for answers in writing from department heads.

WHAT MAY BE ODD is that the councilors didn’t invoke the City Council’s record of the earlier executive session to help resolve the dispute.

Why didn’t Councilor de los Santos seek support from the secretariat record for her claim about what the treasurer told the City Council in the morning’s executive session about city funds? She chose not to or couldn’t do so under the rules.

Some councilors probably also don’t know how the rule works, which may explain why Councilor Young didn’t cut off the quarrel by having secretariat chief Atty. Charisse Piramide read the pertinent part of the executive session. That would’ve promptly confirmed if de los Santos was right about what the treasurer said.