THE SITUATION.  The Cebu City Council approved last Wednesday, December 13, 2023, a P240 million supplemental budget, which partly will pay as incentive City Hall’s regular and casual employees and elected officials P20,000 each and job-order employees P5,000 each.
 Mayor Michael Rama Monday, December 18, told City Hall workers during the flag-raising ceremony, he’d ask for a special session that would raise the P20,000 bonus for each employee to P35,000, which he had promised and would now, back from
his vacation abroad, would “beg, appeal, cry…fight for.” The sums approved by the City Council obviously disappointed him; they weren’t what Rama had “wanted.”
BASIS FOR THE CUT: MARCOS ORDER. The reason for the reduction separately cited separately by Councilor Noel G. Wenceslao, chairman of the City Council committee on budget and finance, and the mayor’s city administrator, Atty. Collin Rosell, is President Marcos Jr.’s Administrative Order #12, a five-page document that Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin signed for the president last December 7, 2023. The Palace order set a maximum amount of P20,000 as incentive or bonus per person.
The A.O. obviously was intended primarily for:
 Civilian personnel in national government agencies, including those in state universities and colleges and government-owned or -controlled corporations.
 Military and uniformed personnel in the army, police, fire protection and jail management services, DILG, justice department, Coast Guard and mapping and resource information agencies. And yes, local water districts such as the controversy-rocked Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD).
The order specifies five conditions, on top of the specific maximum amount.
The City Council obviously used the A.O. as basis for reducing the amount of the bonus it decided to grant to its employees under a supplemental budget. City manager Rosell was quoted in a news story this week, declaring that the city “should follow" President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s order.
LGUs COVERED BY CONDITIONS OF GRANT. Despite the reported dissatisfaction of Mayor Rama in the amounts approved by the Sanggunian, Councilor Wenceslao and C.A. Rosell seemed inclined to follow the Malacañang edict, which is based on congressional mandate.
A.O.#12 speaks of an SRI or “Service Recognition Incentive,” which the order says is based on a congressional joint resolution (JR) -- #4, series of 2009 -- authorizing the grant of incentives and benefits, which are to be categorized by the Department of Budget & Management. Similar instructions were issued under previous orders issued for fiscal years 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. And now this, under A.O. # 12 of December 7, 2023.
The question: Was the bonus that the City Council approved last December 13 a “service recognition incentive (SRI),” which falls under the president’s A.O.? From the City Council action and the city manager’s published comment, the consensus was that the city’s bonus falls under the A.O.’s ambit.
GETTING AROUND MALACAÑANG EDICT. The city’s top city officials though may have found some way to get around the Palace order, namely by not strictly following it.
The A.O.’s SRI is one-time only, that is, for each year, thus, the order is issued for each year, at least that’s how it has been, from 2019 to 2023. “A one-time grant,” said the A.O.
Thus, the trick could be in cutting up the bonus so that each grant wouldn’t exceed the limit.
JUST ADD SUMS LATER: 'NO PROBLEM.' Atty. Rosell believes, in a statement to SunStar’s Arkeen M. Larisma last December 19, that after complying with the P20,000 cap, “we can continue with the additional bonuses.” Meaning, give the P20,000 now, then shell out more later. “So there’s really no problem,” Rosell said.
Yes, there is, if the City would want to follow the letter and spirit of the order. Indeed, there’s a problem, big-time, if the Office of the President is serious about its orders. Malacañang may see that if an LGU is allowed to add bonus or incentive one after the other within a year, the P20,000 limit on the amount could be a farce.
The City Government must be going in that direction when last City Charter Day in February, it gave P15,000, which supposedly would leave the balance of P35,000, due this Christmas season, to make a total of P50,000 per worker. The P20,000 the Sanggunian approved last Wednesday would be P15,000 short of a P50,000 promise, but would complete the sum for a P35,000 promise.
Malacañang could put a limit on the bonus in any given year; “no problem,” as Atty. Rosell said, since City Hall would simply break up the bigger amount the mayor wants to give and spread the installments across the year.
‘BLOATING’ THE BUDGET. The legal aspect of the thing though should be just a part of it. The city administration may need to consider the other question that greeted the move to grant the P50,000 bonus (P15,000 last February and P35,000 this month per employee.) Namely: Is it prudent planning on the use of funds when simultaneously the City is setting up apparatus for an “astronomical” increase of real property taxes? What message would it give?
Majority Floor-leader Jocelyn Pesquera, an administration stalwart no less, ranted at the City Council last December 13 against the “bloating, bloating, and bloating” of the 2024 budget, implying a frenzy of allocating money by the city offices and departments.
The A.O. cautions Sanggunians, in fixing the amount of bonus/incentive, to “exercise prudence and judicious use of government funds, ensuring that the expenditure is reasonable and will not, in any way, prejudice the delivery of services to the public.”
That standard though is broad and leaves a lot of room for local legislators -- and, of course, the chief executive -- to “bloat, bloat, bloat” budgets and engage in orgy budgeting, if not spending.
A.O. SHUTS OUT JOB-ORDER WORKERS. Another aspect of the president’s A.O., with which the grant of employees’ bonus may clash, relates to job-order workers. The City Council included in the city’s list of grantees the JOs. There are more than 3,000 of them, as big as the casuals (also about 3,000) and bigger in number than the 1,345 regular employees. Each JO was granted P5,000 each but Mayor Rama wants to raise the amount to P10,000.
Under A.O. #12 though, among the four groups that are excluded from the bonus/incentive grant are the following: laborers engaged through job contracts (“pakyaw”), those paid on piecework, and individuals and groups “engaged through job orders, contracts of service or others similarly situated.” Consultants and “experts engaged for a limited period” shall not get any bonus too.
HOW AMOUNT MAY BE INCREASED. Councilor Wenceslao said the mayor’s wish could be granted by a two-thirds vote in the Sanggunian, which would change the numbers: P20,000 to P35,000 and P5,000 to P10,000. Or, if they’d embrace C.A. Rosell’s theory, keep the same amounts approved by the City Council and appropriate later the rest of the promised amount. “Later” would be next year.
Nobody at City Hall is telling the public if the City would follow the Malacañang administrative order regarding (a) the limit on the amount and the “one-time grant” injunction and (b) the exclusion of job-order employees. But if what Mayor Rama wants is what Mayor Rama gets, some rules may have to be broken or at least bent.