Acting mayor on MCWD, CPA: More diplomacy

CEBU. Cebu City Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia.
CEBU. Cebu City Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia.Photo by Amper Campana

VICE Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia had his hands full on his first day as acting mayor of Cebu City on Monday, May 13, 2024.

Aside from addressing the problem of four unpaid regular city employees, he also ordered an investigation on the alleged intimidation and harassment they experienced after their complaint resulted in the preventive suspension of Mayor Michael Rama and seven other city officials for six months by the Ombudsman.

But the elephant in the room was the Rama administration’s ongoing row with the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) and the Cebu Port Authority (CPA).

In a press conference after the flag ceremony, Garcia said he will take a more diplomatic approach in dealing with them.

He said he is willing to sit down with the MCWD, but he won’t talk about control over the water district.

Priority

He later told SunStar Cebu’s news and commentary online program Beyond the Headlines that resolving the issues with the MCWD and the CPA is one of his priorities.

“Mao gyud nay pinakalisod (That’s the hardest), one of my priorities nga gilista (that I listed),” he said.

He refused to go into details, but he said he will initiate a conversation with the two government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), saying he is confident a talk with the officials of both agencies will have positive results.

“Atoa sa ning sugdan og estorya. Di sa ta mangaway ug mangisog. Basin diay’g mada ra nig estorya,” said Garcia.

(Let’s sit and talk. No need to pick a fight. Maybe this whole mess can be sorted out through talking.)

Rama’s conflict with the MCWD and the CPA has been ongoing for over a year now.

The City upped the ante when it filed a case before the Ombudsman against the CPA for constructing buildings and a wharf without the necessary building permits from the City Hall last March 15.

On April 1, the Prevention, Restoration, Order, Beautification and Enhancement team cut the padlock of the CPA’s gate to allow city officials led by City Administrator Collin Rosell to implement the notice of illegal construction and work stoppage order issued by the Office of the Building Official.

This prompted the CPA to file an administrative case against Rama before the Office of the President for alleged violation of Administrative Order 23 or for oppression, misconduct in office, gross negligence, or dereliction of duty and abuse of authority.

The City’s conflict with the MCWD began when Rama tried to fire MCWD chairman Jose Daluz III in May 2023. Last October, he appointed a new set of directors, resulting in the water district having two boards.

The situation went south when the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) intervened, and appointed an interim board.

When the dust finally settled, Daluz and MCWD general manager Edgar Donoso lodged complaints against Rama before the Office of the President through the Department of the Interior and Local Government on April 29.

Investigation

Meanwhile, Garcia ordered an investigation on the alleged intimidation against Sybil Ann Ybañez, Filomena Atuel, Maria Almicar Diongzon and Chito Dela Cerna whose complaint led to the preventive suspension of Rama.

He tasked Christine Joyce Batucan, whom he appointed as city administrator, and the Human Resource Development Office to spearhead the probe and submit a report within 48 hours.

He said the incident upset him. “Kinahanglan dili mahadlok atong mga empleyado nga motrabaho (City employees should not be afraid to report to work) because that is their mandate and they are hired to do their jobs,” he said.

He said the one responsible will face whatever penalty the law will allow.

Garcia also ordered the release of the salaries of Ybañez, Atuel, Diongzon and Dela Cerna by Monday, May 20, at the latest.

Aside from Batucan, Garcia introduced Leizl Calamba who will serve as the officer-in-charge of the City Assessor’s Office while City Assessor Maria Theresa Rosell, wife of City Administrator Rosell, is preventively suspended.

Batucan is a registered nurse who graduated from the Cebu Doctors’ University. She completed her law studies at the University of San Carlos. Batucan previously worked in the CLO before serving in the vice mayor’s office.

Background

Calamba has spent 17 years in government service. She worked as assistant city assessor during the tenures of Rama and the late mayor Edgardo Labella. In March 2023, Calamba was transferred to the Internal Audit Services Office, where she became department head. She also served as OIC city assessor during the Rama and Labella administrations. Garcia said Sam Salimbago will remain as his chief of staff.

Garcia will be acting mayor for six months, or until November, while Rama, along with the Rosells and five other city officials, were preventively suspended over the reassignments and the non-payment of Ybañez, Autel, Diongzon and Dela Cerna’s salaries for 10 months.

After the press conference on Monday, Garcia visited the assessor’s office where he met the four complainants and assured them that they would be paid.

Garcia told them he will look into their predicament, as the four complainants are still working under the City Administrator’s Office pending the appeal they filed before the Civil Service Commission (CSC) last March 19 regarding their reassignments.

When informed of the CSC decision that that their reassignments were illegal and violated the 2016 Omnibus Rules on Appointments and Other Human Resource Actions, Garcia said there was no reason not to respect and follow or he might suffer the same fate as the mayor.

Plans

Asked if he will reshuffle department heads during his stint as acting mayor, Garcia said that only if there is need.

“Kinahanglan magkinto sila kay lahi na karon ang dagan (They need to be on their toes because I am now running things),” he said.

After his visit to the assessor’s office, Garcia met with the department heads.

He admitted that some departments were critical of his takeover, including but not limited to the treasurer’s office, accounting office and legal office.

However, the acting mayor assured that work at the assessor’s office would not be hampered.

“I will make sure that the City Assessor’s Office is functioning properly,” Garcia said. “I don’t want to rock the boat, I want continuity, han-ay ug tunhay kay lisod kaayo ang situation nga mabalda ang trabaho (orderly and continuously because the situation becomes difficult when work is hampered).”

As for his plans, Garcia emphasized the importance of overseeing the Palarong Pambansa, which the City will host in July, with John Pages of the Cebu City Sports Commission for potential adjustments.

He stressed accountability during his tenure, saying any issues will reflect on him.

“Remember nga kaning (that this) Palaro will already happen during my watch. So, whatever happens, I will already be held accountable for it. Og dili ko maghilabot-hilabot, akong pasagdan nila, mura ba’g wa nako ma-supervise og tarong for example basig masumbalik na nako (If I don’t interfere, I’ll just leave it to them, like I am not able to supervise properly for example, that might come back to haunt me),” Garcia said.

Changes

Monday’s flag ceremony only lasted around 30 minutes.

Also, all the employees immediately returned to their respective offices after Garcia introduced his appointees.

It was far cry from previous flag ceremonies wherein Rama would make a long speech.

Garcia said there will be no dancing, no Singapore-like Cebu City jingles during his watch.

He said he wants to make sure the flag ceremony will only be brief, lasting nearly 30 minutes.

He said he had received complaints from constituents that no one could accommodate their transactions because the employees had not returned yet.

“The time is every important and I don’t want to receive complaints because I have been receiving complaints in the past that manganhi sila og alas 9 o alas 10 unya di pa sila ka transact sa llang business because nag flag pa (they came to City Hall around 9 or 10 a.m. but they couldn’t proceed with their transaction because the flag ceremony was still ongoing),” Garcia said.

Asked if he has spoken to Mayor Rama since a brief phone call last Wednesday, May 8, when news of the latter’s prevention suspension came out, he said tried to call several times during the weekend, to no avail.

He said he understood the mayor’s situation, saying his family experienced the same thing when his father, former mayor Alvin Garcia, was suspended for three weeks.

“This is not easy. Sakit gyud na pamalandungon (It really hurts to think about it|),” he added. / AML

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