EXPLAINER: Barug Joy Pesquera, basing on committees and titles, is now the most influential Cebu City councilor. Opposition BOPKs Mary Ann de los Santos and Jose Abellanosa are given, surprise, committee membership.

CEBU. Photos of Dondon Hontiveros with Mary Ann de los Santos, Joy Pesquera and Jose Abellanosa. (Cebu City PIO photos)
CEBU. Photos of Dondon Hontiveros with Mary Ann de los Santos, Joy Pesquera and Jose Abellanosa. (Cebu City PIO photos)

3 CHAIRS, 5 VICE CHAIRS. If SunStar’s published list is right, Cebu City Councilor Jocelyn Pesquera now occupies three (3) committee chairs, including the coveted committee on health

and committee on labor and employment, and five (5) vice chairs, including the much-vied-for committee on budget and finance. And she’s the majority floor leader.

The 16th Sanggunian elected new officers and organized committees last July 5, 2023 for its 2023 “season.” And as expected, all the committee seats were filled by councilors aligned

with Partido Barug, the dominant party resulting from the 2022 elections. All are Barugs except two BOPKs (Bando Osmeña – Pundok Kauswagan), who were given one each committee member seat: Councilors Mary Ann de los Santos, sports & youth; and Jose Lorenzo Abellanosa, labor, employment & livelihood.

Councilor Joy Pesquera leads, aside from the committee on health, two others: committee on women, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) & family affairs and committee on rules & oversight. She’s the vice-chairwoman of the committees on (1) budget & finance, (2) labor & employment, (3) education & science; (4) barangay affairs, and (5) sister-city & big-brother relations. And she’s a member of the committee on laws & styling -- and, reinforcing all that, the majority floor leader job she has skillfully held since July 2022.

In comparison, Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. continues to be excluded from any of the Sanggunian’s 28 committees. (A City Council secretariat quip: Even to the unofficial and fictitious committee on silence, Archival, a frequent discussant, has not been invited and obviously didn’t qualify.)

LONG LEGISLATIVE EXPERIENCE. Pesquera, an accountant and lawyer, is a veteran legislator, having served as city councilor for 12 years of the terms she won by election (1998-2007; 2016-2019), not counting the rest of Councilor Dondon Hontiveros’s term.

She served Hontiveros’s unexpired term after then president Duterte appointed her in February 2022 when Dondon left the City Council to serve as vice mayor upon ascension of then VM Mike Rama to mayor after the death of mayor Edgardo Labella on November 19, 2021. Her string of victories was cut only in 2019 when she lost to south district congressman Bebot Abellanosa by about 60,000 votes. Later, in the city south councilors race in 2022, she landed #3, next only to Hontiveros and Jose Abellanosa.

IMPRESSION OF INFLUENCE, POWER. A few of the other Barug councilors hold only two committee chairs, such as Phillip Zafra (public services; public order) and James Cuenco (transportation & communication; sister city-big brother relations). Hontiveros, like Pesquera, rules three committees -- education, science & technology; scholarship program; and tourism, arts & culture -- but Dondon doesn’t have as many vice-chair functions as Joy has.

Pesquera’s positions in the choice committees are perceived as sources of influence, if not power, mainly on passage of resolutions and ordinances that govern use of the city’s funds and other resources, access to which enables a politician to succeed and stay long in service and power. Being involved in such important activities helps in getting things done. As Councilor Gealon sees it, a committee chairmanship gives the councilor a direct link to the City Hall department that the committee in effect legislatively oversees.

GEALON’S WISH. Gealon, wishing for another committee chairmanship but not getting it, told Explainer Sunday, July 9, 2023 it would be “a notch closer to my peers in the majority bloc who have three committees or more” that they lead. He said he was willing to give up “all my memberships and vice chairmanships” in exchange for one more committee chairmanship.

One more (committee chairmanship), Gealon said, would enable him to coordinate with one of City Hall’s departments, which “can dispose of resources -- personnel, material or services, to better serve the Cebuanos.”

He griped that he has only committee, committee on laws & styling, where he’s the chairman. His work in the preceding Sanggunian year, by his count, consisted of 800 resolutions, 60 committee reports, 30 approved or proposed ordinances. All that appeared not to “warrant the grant of another committee chairmanship,” Councilor Gealon said.

HOW MARY ANN, ABELLANOSA GOT IN. Gealon said de los Santos and Abellanosa “intimated...they were interested to become committee members.”

Mary Ann, asked by Explainer also Sunday, July 9, said she didn’t ask for a committee member’s seat. She said Vice Mayor and Sanggunian Presiding Officer Raymond Alvin Garcia called her executive asst. for a meeting and asked him what committee she wanted. She submitted, she said, “health, because that’s my advocacy; education, since my ordinance that puts up a Student Assistance Program in elementary, high school and senior high was approved; social services, for the implementing arm of my ordinance; and youth & sports development, since I’m an enthusiast.” She got one: membership in the committee on youth and sports.

She didn’t seek out the committee assignment; in a way, it was offered. De los Santos said BOPK in 2013 didn’t give a committee seat to any councilor of Barug (of which Mary Ann at the time was a member) but in 2016, when Team Rama dominated the Sanggunian, “Mayor Tommy appointed me as deputy mayor for health.” Some people suspected then that the appointment must have added to the reasons she defected to Tomas Osmena’s BOPK.

SHUT-OUT-OPPOSITION RULE. What Councilor de los Santos and some City Hall watchers recall is the total exclusion of the opposition from the committees -- with a few rare exceptions.

To the victor belongs the spoils, or some similar spiel. Plus the harsh reality that majority

rules. Barug prepares and approves the lineup of officers and members of committees in the City Council. Except in extraordinary situations, such as when two opposition members like de los Santos and Abellanosa, are given each an individual concession, though still pittance to the opposition cause.

Zero presence in the committees assures full control on legislation but the sad, at times tragic, drawback is that a bad ordinance or resolution is not corrected at the committee level and often neglected or ignored at the en banc deliberation.

That was dramatically raised by then vice mayor Rama when he was presiding at the City Council and ally Edgardo Labella was running the mayor’s office Woe on us, Rama said in effect, we approve millions of pesos in projects and contracts, without really studying each project or contract. The alarm bell should start ringing at the committee level; one oppositionist in the committee could help

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