Seares: Can governor issue cease-and-desist order on Cebu BRT project? Can city mayor terminate MCWD directors? Two major legal issues still hang, causing turmoil and distracting questions on alleged mismanagement, corruption in MCWD

Seares: Can governor issue cease-and-desist order on Cebu BRT project? Can city mayor terminate MCWD directors? Two major legal issues still hang, causing turmoil and distracting questions on alleged mismanagement, corruption in MCWD
SunStar File

(1) Guv Gwen's 'intrusion' into BRT, Cebu City affairs

CEBU Governor Gwen Garcia, in a memorandum-order numbered Memorandum 16-2024 dated February 27, 2024, ordered Hunan Road & Bridge Construction Group Co. Ltd. to "immediately cease and desist construction activities" on "province-owned lots" along Osmeña Blvd., Cebu City.

The memo-order called it an "exercise of the governor's adjudicatory powers, justifying it to prevent "potential violations" of the Philippine heritage laws related to the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit project.

Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama called the governor’s order an "intrusion" into city government affairs, citing the local government unit's status as a highly urbanized city outside the realm of the province. The mayor was confident enough about his legal ground and sufficiently angry to file last March 20, 2024 an administrative complaint with the president's office for "abuse of authority, oppression and grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service." With the conspicuous plea of: Preventively suspend her!

TAN-AWA KONO: Whose project is the Cebu BRT? At first blush, CCG's or Cebu City Government's. The concept, study, and proposal came from the Cebu City Government, evolving through two mayors -- then mayor Tomas Osmeña and Mayor Rama -- but the project was later taken over by the National Government.

CBRT was a CCG project, Nigel Paul Villarete -- former Cebu City administration and deemed a transportation expert by the Cebu City Council -- told me Thursday, May 2, 2024, "it no longer is." It is now "a national project, through DOTr or Department of Transportation, using national government funds through a national government loan."

What has the LGU become? "Just a spectator," Villarete said, of the CBRT's "implementation." It "may comment or suggest but it's all DOTr."

UNYA DILI INTRUSION ANG CAPITOL ORDER? Maybe not intrusion into Cebu City affairs but into National Government affairs. "Mas grabe noon," according to a lawyer who's not working with the government. Capitol said it is protecting its right as landowner and is intervening on construction within its own property and not meddling with the entire BRT project. The two bus terminals that are feared to "photo-bomb" the heritage and historic view of the province-government building from Fuente Osmeña would be located on lots that Capitol says it owns.

The question of "abuse of authority" might focus on whether the LGU has the legal authority to issue the C&D order, as if it were a judicial body, and upset the national government's project. Capitol critics may argue the LGU could go to court to protect its property, including the historic and heritage value of the Capitol building, but not take the law in its hands.

VILLARETE WON'T DISMISS THE LGU'S RIGHT. He can't remember about a city, town or province behaving like a judicial body but he said "this might be precedent-making."

(2) RTC ruled: Mayor has right to terminate MCWD directors

As early as last June 30, 2023, the Cebu Regional Trial Court decided that then mayor Edgardo Labella had the legal right to terminate MCWD directors. The late Labella had fired directors Augustus Pe Jr., Ralph Sevilla and Cecilia Adlawan. RTC Judge Anacleto Debalucos, dismissing the three directors' petition, said the mayor's right is a "consequence" of his right to appoint them. Pe and company disagreed and appealed, on August 31, 2023, to the Supreme Court, where it is feared the litigation might drag on for years.

The RTC ruling should guide mayors after Labella, as Mayor Rama must have been "enlightened" when he dismissed directors Jose Daluz III, Miguelito Pato and Jodelyn May Seno under circumstances similar to Labella's action against June Pe et al.

'WA'Y EPEK." With the RTC decision, Mayor Rama has legal footing that stands until the high court would reverse the RTC ruling -- or uphold it, which thus would make it part of the national law on local water districts.

Rama's appointment of new directors followed the RTC ruling. Obviously, the Labella litigation didn't help -- no effect -- resolve the issue as the Daluz-led directors chose not to be instructed by the court decision.

Apparently, protagonists in the dispute would accept only a development that favors their side. A law that is not categorical or specific or a court decision that is not finally decided by the highest court of the land is exploited to justify latching on to one's position.

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