CEBU City Mayor Michael Rama, who promised maximum transparency in City Hall, recently instructed his department heads not to grant reporters any interviews and to refer the media to him instead.
Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young chided members of the Mayor's Management Team (MMT) for complaining about their employment status and acting like "sacred cows," and asked them to keep quiet.
Young defended the mayor's decision to assess the performance and abilities of the MMT members for possible reassignment, and even pushed to limit their term of office to two or three years.
Less than two weeks into his first term as mayor, Rama said he wants to be the one to face the media and answer any questions regarding operations of the different departments.
Since last week, reporters covering City Hall have been wondering why the department heads who used to be accessible are now declining to be interviewed.
They told reporters they are under instructions not to discuss anything with the media, and that reporters should ask the mayor instead.
"I did not make any written order but I told them that if you are not prepared to be interviewed, you better be sure to go to the PIO (public information officer)... If there is an issue concerning the department heads, Mike Rama will speak to the media as concurrent PIO so dili na absolute na dili sila katingog (It is not an absolute rule that they cannot grant
interviews)," Rama told a news conference yesterday.
When some reporters pointed out a PIO has yet to be appointed, he said he will be the concurrent PIO and only he will issue statements to the media, being the head of all department heads.
He explained he only wants to make sure all the information relayed to the media are accurate, and that he knows about them before they come out in the news.
Last week, the City Hall Association of Reporters in Media (Charm) requested Rama if a status quo can be observed, but he said, "Nganong status quo man na lahi na man ang mayor (Why should there be a status quo when there's a new mayor)?"
Vice Mayor Young said it is the prerogative of the mayor to impose the policy and adopt his own style in handling the media.
"Iya pud nang style. Being the mayor, he has his own policy. I think he knows that whatever policy he has, he should be able to deal with the consequences. That is his prerogative, but he should be ready to deal with whatever the consequences are," he said in a separate interview.
Reporters have been trying to get information on the fourth supplemental budget from department heads, but they were referred to the mayor.
Rama said he prefers that the concerned department heads course the information through the PIO.
"I have to work out a system that if there is an issue concerning the department heads, the PIO will speak on behalf of the City... I want to be sure that department heads are not just grandstanding kay ig abot unya sa conflict, kinsa may muatubang? Ang mayor gyud. (The mayor has to answer, in case of conflicts) This is just part of command responsibility," he explained.
He said he is looking for a permanent PIO who will set up an office so the reporters will not have to go directly to the department heads.
"There should be a setup, instead of your going anytime to get a comment from the department heads. Dili sad na mao (That's also not right) because we want everybody to work. If it's about a department, call the mayor because I am the head of all department heads. And if I don't know the answer, I will ask them to write it for me," Rama added.
Regional Director Pedro Noval of the Department of Interior and Local Government, when sought for comment, said he does not find anything wrong with Mayor Rama's policy.
Noval said there is no law violated, since the mayor is only being careful to make sure the media get accurate information.
"Since he will speak on behalf of the department heads, transparent gihapon siya (he's still being transparent).
Considering he's the mayor, he's answerable for everyone, that's probably why he is being careful," he added.
Also yesterday, Young proposed to restructure the MMT program and proposed to make all members contractual employees for three years, at most, to give the new cum laude graduates a chance to be part of the program.
In an interview yesterday, Young said he does not see anything wrong with the interviews that lawyer Jocelyn Pesquera has been conducting with MMT members.
He also does not see anything wrong with transferring the MMT members to other offices or terminating their contracts, if indeed Pesquera told them that.
"I don't know if she said that or not but at this time, there are a lot of insecurities among the people, so we don't know if gipasobraan ang storya or tinuod ba sad. But my point is, they're acting like sacred cows," Young said.
"Kinsa man na sila ba?... Why are they complaining that they are being interviewed again, na gibadlong sila?... I'm just saying that they should just keep their mouths shut," he added.
Some of the 80 city employees hired through the MMT program earlier said they are demoralized because of the uncertainties in their employment status.
The MMT members all graduated with honors (at least cum laude) and were hired to fill up middle management positions in City Hall.
The program was initiated by Rep. Tomas Osmeña (Cebu City, south district) in 2005, when he was mayor.
Of the 80 MMT members, about 20 are now regular employees occupying plantilla positions in different departments.
For Young, they should not be complaining, otherwise they have become ordinary employees of City Hall who don't want to be transferred and who ask for endorsements from the city officials.
"They should reorganize the MMT in the sense that there is a limit of two to three years. But it does not mean they cannot apply for a job in City Hall after that... They should not be regular because if you make them regular, matakdan gyud sila sa ubang empleyado (They will begin to act like other employees).
Tanawa karon, dili na sila magpa-interview," he said.
Young said he already raised his proposal to Osmeña when he was still mayor, and he did not object to it.
In his news conference yesterday, Rama said he will discuss the matter with City Administrator Jose Mari Poblete and Secretary Belinda Navascues and if they agree with the proposal, they will adopt it.
Young said he agrees with what Pesquera is doing with the MMT members, which he is also doing with the employees in the Sangguniang Panglungsod.
The MMT members, he said, also should not question the authority of Pesquera in conducting the interviews because she was authorized by the mayor to assess their performance, skills and talents so they can be placed in positions where their abilities will be maximized.
"It's a small thing for them to question. So what if she's not an employee? The mayor asked her to do it. Kami man ang politicians, they should not act like they are the politicians," Young added.
Rama reiterated it is his prerogative to designate whoever can help him, but that he will be the one to decide and set policies.
"This is my mayorship, so I am the boss," said Rama. "Some people are helping me but in the end, I will make the final decision."