EXPLAINER: Mayor Rama wants bullet-proof, bomb-proof SUV. City has the money in 2023 budget. Armored, luxurious cars are limited to specified public officials -- and mayors aren't in list. 'Prohibited' vehicles can be bought only with DILG/president's office approval.

EXPLAINER: Mayor Rama wants bullet-proof, bomb-proof SUV. City has the money in 2023 budget. Armored, luxurious cars are limited to specified public officials -- and mayors aren't in list. 'Prohibited' vehicles can be bought only with DILG/president's office approval.
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NOT THE PURPOSE OF THE CAR. Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama reportedly wants to buy a P10.32 million sports utility vehicle because (1) it is not just for him but for the future chief executive of the city, (2) though he survived "many challenges in the past," he can't be over-confident now 3) it has always been "the desire of the country's mayors" to protect themselves by using bullet-proof and bomb-proof vehicles.

Critics may say that Mayor Rama is still on his first term and has potentially two terms more before he's limited by term. Prospects are he'd benefit most from the SUV. If the "challenges in the past" are death threats, he hasn't had any, not to the public's knowledge. As to the wish being shared by members of the League of City Mayors that Mayor Mike heads, it's a sentiment that can be more forcefully declared by the league to change national policy on vehicles.

SUV IS IN LIST OF LUXURIOUS, PROHIBITED CARS. What may block Mayor Rama's plan is the policy adopted by the Government in President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's Administrative Order (AO) #233 of August 1, 2008. That AO expressly prohibits all government offices, including local government units, from "acquiring and/or using luxury vehicles for their operations."

Four types of vehicles are listed as luxury and thus prohibited under the AO's section 2.4 and included are sports utility vehicles (SUV) with an engine displacement exceeding 2700 cc, if gasoline-fed, or 3,000 cc if diesel fed, and with an engine exceeding four cylinders.

Not only does the AO ban future purchases of the luxury cars, it also orders the immediate disposal of the said vehicles already owned by the government by public auction or sale.

In an October 6, 2023 letter to DILG 7 Regional Director Leocadio T.

Trovela, Mayor Rama asked for authority to buy a "brand-new service vehicle," described partly thus: body SUV; engine 300; engine type V6; engine displacement 3.0L; power 300 HP; torque 650 N-m; transmission automatic; tire 265/55 P20; wheels 20-inch alloy; layout four-wheel drive.

The request is for two items: the car for P6,582,931.04 and for the bullet-proof and bomb-proof features, P3,450,000 or the "grand total" P10,032,931.04.

PROHIBITED, YET APPROVAL MAY BE SOUGHT. Under then President Gloria Arroyo's administrative order, the vehicles listed as luxurious and therefore prohibited may still be bought by an LGU. That can be inferred from the requirement (under section 9.0) that all government agencies, including LGUs, "shall seek approval of the Office of the President (OP) for the purchase of any vehicle listed as luxurious and prohibited.

Unless that procedure has been changed after 2008, Mayor Mike should've sent his request to the OP, instead of, or in addition to asking, the DILG.

In a 2022 audit report released last July (2023), COA flagged the purchase of a luxury vehicle worth P4.9 million by the Philippine Coast Guard without the approval of the Department of Budget and Management. That must be the rule for national offices and agencies: DBM's OK. Arroyo's order though specifies the Office of the President for all government offices and agencies covered by the ban.

Whatever, for now, Mayor Mike can still get his dream car if the DILG/Office of the President will approve it.

SECURITY REASONS/PURPOSES can be used only by the president, vice president, Senate president, House speaker, and chief justice of the Supreme Court, per the 2008 presidential order, which says it doesn't cover those public officials.

Mayors are not exempted from the ban on luxurious cars and can't use the security excuse. However, as reported here, they may request for approval by DILG/Office of the President. In his request though to DILG, the security aspect wasn't raised by Mayor Mike.

THE SECURITY PROOFING includes protection for floor, ceiling, engine, with ballistic doors and bullet-resistant glass. The mayor's request for permission to buy didn't offer argument for the need of the additional features. It only cited the approval of the budget for 2023 (not 2024) which includes the purchase of the SUV "to provide transport for the Office of the Mayor" and "to be used by the Office of the Mayor." Councilor Noel Wenceslao's resolution approving the purchase said the SUV is "essential for the daily official business" of the mayor.

It must interest mayors of LGUs that security proofing does not make the SUV luxurious or prohibited. It is the engine displacement, which must exceed 2,700 cc, if gasoline-fed, or 3,000 cc, if diesel fed. (Rama's requisition doesn't specify the kind of fuel.) And the engine must exceed four cylinders.

GOVERNMENT REQUIREMENTS have preoccupied city officials who're working with the mayor to buy the SUV. There's the other part of the problem though: how the public reacts to the plan amid the decision to raise real property taxes, which may also increase of the prices of commodities and services in the city. The mayor has to convince the people there would be a serious threat to his safety if he couldn't go to and from City Hall or any other place of work, which the police couldn't adequately meet. He has to make the constituents believe that the car's use would be worth the expense.

Mayor Mike's rival, former mayor Tomas Osme a (last term: 2016-2019), couldn't help being naughty instead of nice even just for Christmas: "Rama is not worth P10 million," he said. Mayor Mike's supporters probably retorted: "He's worth much more."

MAIN ISSUES. But that has little to do with the main issues: Can the mayor legally buy and use the car? Yes, if given the authority from DILG or the president's office. Is it "essential" for his daily work? On that, public debate is still unresolved.

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