Seares: Kons de los Santos says Cebu City's 2014 half-rice ordinance not aimed to make people eat less rice or foil restaurants' 'unli rice' gimmick but to curb waste. Enforcement though has been rather half-hearted.

Photos from Cebu City Council Secretariat
Photos from Cebu City Council Secretariat

THE SITUATION. It's called half-cup rice ordinance in Naga City (Camarines Sur) and here in Cebu City, it's simply half-rice ordinance. But while Naga's ordinance took effect last May 5, 2023, Cebu City's similar ordinance was approved much earlier, on October 9, 2014 yet.

It's not known how much success Naga's ordinance has made; after all it's only a few months old while Cebu City's ordinance has been in the statute books since eight years ago.

Last Wednesday (September 13, 2023), the City Council, on motion of Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos, requested the City Health Department (CHD) for the "full" implementation of Ordinance #2409, which requires business establishments that sell meals -- such as restaurants, schools, offices, cafeterias, catering outfits, fast-food chains and similar food-related services -- to include as an option half-rice serving in their menu.

Obviously, Councilor de los Santos thought of using her ordinance to help the government cope with the rice crisis: a price and supply problem that has afflicted the country.

I wanted to know if she looks at a sack of rice half-empty or half-full, or how a well-intentioned and sensible ordinance hasn't been implemented, at least not fully.

[1] Does Councilor de los Santos know how much implementation has been done by the City Health Department since the ordinance gave it the job of enforcing the half-rice ordinance since it is the "lead department" in the inspection of food establishment? Has there been any CHD report or record of compliance with the ordinance between 2014 and, say, 2022?

She said she's not aware of any (such report or record). "It's a CHD job that has regretfully remained unfulfilled." Without data from CHD and the City Legal Office (CLO), she must be clueless as to the extent of the enforcement.

And, of course, CHD and CLO report first and foremost to the city mayor, not the City Council.

[2] What is the mechanism in enforcement?

Councilor de los Santos pointed to the mechanism. The ordinance (in Section 5), she said, provides that the City Health Department shall notify the establishment found violating the ordinance and forward the case to the City Legal Office "for appropriate action." The City Legal Office shall then summon the violating establishment "to settle its violation and comply with the ordinance." If the violator refuses to comply or obey the summon from CLO, "then the case shall be filed with the court."

The handicap is that she or the rest of the City Council doesn't know if that is being done, if CHD reported any violator; if it did, how many; and among those reported, who were investigated but still refused compliance and were thus sued.

It's not known if it's a handicap to CHD that the ordinance doesn't specify how much is one-half. The City of Naga ordinance doesn't just say one-half cup, it also specifies the weight: 100 grams, one half of 200 grams, the full cup.

There's also the matter of what specifically constitutes unlawful acts: the Cebu City ordinance punishes only:

(a) failure to include in the menu the half-rice serving, and

(b) failure to inform the customer about the option on the half-rice.

It doesn't cover failure to deliver the right quantity of rice. Fines from P1,500 to P5,000 will be imposed, depending on the number of times the offense is committed, with suspension of business permit on the fifth offense and for each month of continued non-compliance. But then would anyone go to court over rice in one's meal, let alone over wrong amount of rice served?

[3] Does the City Council have an oversight apparatus, which monitors status and progress on ordinances approved by the mayor?

Councilor de los Santos said that under Ordinance #2409, the CHD is "empowered and tasked to be the lead department in the inspection of food establishments" in the implementation of the ordinance.

But as to who oversees for the City Government compliance with an ordinance the City Council passes and the mayor signs, or allows to lapse, into law, the councilor does not know, except that the Sanggunian has Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera as chairperson of the oversight committee. Kons de los Santos, however, didn't say what specifically the oversight committee does and she's "not aware if there is an oversight mechanism."

[4] Doesn't the councilor suspect that her ordinance is doomed to become, if it's not one already, a dead-letter ordinance?

On the fate of her ordinance and several other "well-intentioned ordinances" that have not been "fully implemented to their fullest extent," Councilor de los Santos said that is "indeed a regrettable reality."

Another "regrettable reality" is that the City Council collectively often makes only polite requests and almost traditionally is charitable to the implementers of ordinances and resolutions. De los Santos is being kind in saying several ordinances haven't been "fully implemented" when she doesn't know or isn't sure if they have been implemented at all.

Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. would rant occasionally about Sanggunian requests for information being ignored or ordinances not being enforced but not once did the City Council, at least in recent history, actually express outrage or indignation over the disrespect, if not insult.

[5] If the ordinance is strictly enforced, won't the City be waging a campaign for its people to eat less "so that it will have enough rice to feed everyone," which one City of Naga resident wrote in a social media post?

No, Councilor de los Santos, told me Wednesday, September 20, it's not "designed to encourage people to eat less." It's aimed to give them "more control over their portion sizes, thus helping to prevent wastage and promote conscious consumption of rice." Gives people who prefer smaller serving "an option." Doesn't "force anyone" to reduce rice intake. "It recognizes," the councilor said, that "every grain of rice is valuable."

[6] The issue of rice used to be a political issue. Would the rice crisis have an impact on local barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections this October?

"Might not have," said de los Santos. Issues in the BSKE elections are "very localized," she said, "not so much on societal (problems)... in some barangays, they are family-laden."

[7] How do people measure the value of the 2014 ordinance?

"The true measure of the relevance of an ordinance" -- "let me emphasize," said Councilor de los Santos -- "is how essential and beneficial it proves to be during a time of crisis and need." She said, "It is high time to give the half-rice ordinance the full attention and enforcement it rightly demands."

It may not matter how she sees the sack of rice: half empty or half full. What matters more is whether the City Health Department and the City Legal Office can and will implement the ordinance.


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