WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE. On September 7, 2022, the Cebu City Council referred to the committee on laws, ordinances and styling the proposed ordinance of Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos seeking to expand the power of the Sanggunian to investigate, in the same way that each house of Congress does, with the power to punish disobedience.

The ordinance seeks to “grant” the Cebu City Council the power to (a) conduct legislative inquiries in aid of legislation, (b) issue subpoenas for persons to testify or produce documents, and (c) punish for contempt any person who disobeys the subpoena.

SURPRISE, AFTER SURPRISE. The September 7 filing of the ordinance was the first surprise since it must be basic knowledge of veteran legislators like Councilor de los Santos that local legislative bodies are not given the power of subpoena and contempt.

The next surprise was that the Sanggunian committee on laws -- in a report filed Wednesday, November 9 -- found it “a valid exercise of power” by City Council and said the proposed ordinance “does not contravene” the 1987 Constitution and the 1991 Local Government Code. The committee report said it reviewed the legal authorities cited by de los Santos but the revised text of the ordinance after the review was still to be disclosed.

Gealon -- a lawyer who headed the City Legal Office before his election as councilor -- told Explainer earlier, on September 26, there was indeed a legal problem and he’d “work on the ordinance” with de los Santos.

“Work” on the ordinance could still go on. The report may not be regarded as the final word because the City Council would still have (a) a further study by the City Legal Office and (b) a public hearing “sometime in December.”

ARGUMENTS AND FINDINGS of the committee on laws, per the Gealon report:

[] The committee on laws sees some kind of support from the 35-yeard-old case of Negros Oriental II Electric Cooperative vs. Dumaguete Sangguniang Panlungsod (GR #72492, November 5, 1987).

Not the sum of Supreme Court ruling, which rejected the Dumaguete City Council’s claimed subpoena-contempt power, but the “factual circumstance” under which the case was decided, namely, the laws at the time: the 1973 Constitution and Batas Pambansa Bilang 337, “the old Local Government Code.” Those laws didn’t grant expressly subpoena-contempt power but the high court recognized (in Arnault vs. Nazareno and cited in the Dumaguete case) the right of Congress to invoke it as a “matter of self-preservation” and as necessary means to perform its task.

In other words, a legislative body has the power to adopt measures for it to fulfill its mandate: “to do its job,” as Councilor de los Santos put it to her colleagues in her sponsorship speech.

[] The laws committee cites the Constitution of 1987 (Section 21, Article VI) and Local Government Code of 1991, both of which, it contends, do not expressly withhold or prohibit, the subpoena-contempt power, from Congress or the local legislative bodies.

[] The De los Santos ordinance meets all the requirements of a valid ordinance, the laws committee contends, saying (a) it does not contravene the Constitution or any statute; (b) it is not unfair or oppressive; (c) it is not partial or discriminatory; (d) it does not prohibit, but may regulate, trade; (e) it is general and consistent with public policy; and (f) it is not unreasonable.

OBSTACLE AHEAD. The most formidable obstacle to de los Santos’s proposal would still be the three-and-a-half-decades-old legal doctrine on the issue, which the SC laid down in the Negros Oriental II Electric Cooperative case.

The de los Santos proposal, if supported by the mayor, will muster enough votes to pass at the City Council, whatever the ordered City Legal Office study or the scheduled public hearing will turn out.

In time though, it could be challenged in court, as the Dumaguete ordinance was, and the opposers would’ve strong backing in the standing jurisprudence on the issue.