Seares: Cebu City Council still has to override a single mayor's veto this year. Kons Rey Gealon's drone ordinance shot down, the latest Mike Rama 'killing' of a local law screened by his own councilors.

CEBU. Cebu City Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia and Councilors Mary Ann de los Santos and Rey Gealon.
CEBU. Cebu City Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia and Councilors Mary Ann de los Santos and Rey Gealon.Pixabay and File photos

THE city mayor usually exercises his power of direct veto when the Cebu City Council is dominated by a party that is hostile to the chief executive, which happens when there are more councilors aligned with the rival party than the mayor's own.

A split in executive-legislative control has not happened since June 30, 2019, when Partido Barug, led by then mayor Edgardo Labella and vice mayor Michael Rama, assumed office after wresting City Hall from Tomas Osmeña's Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK). Labella and Rama ruled City Hall with a hefty majority in the City Council, a dominance Barug has retained to this day even after the 2022 election, with Mayor Rama and Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia holding the reins.

Mayor Rama as majority party head and sitting mayor, with all the powers the position carries, leads in shaping policies and programs, which are then translated into his own executive orders and Sanggunian's ordinances and resolutions.

Rama doesn't have to kill any ordinance, because even before a legislative measurer's birth, during conception, or at any stage of legislation, the mayor -- in a party caucus or through the Sanggunian leaders -- can direct how the measure must take shape or whether it can see light at all.

LATEST KILL. Last October 19, 2023, in Mayor Rama's letter to Vice Mayor Garcia, as Sanggunian presiding officer, vetoed an ordinance (#2023-0015), authored by Councilor Rey Gealon, regulating the use of drones or "unmanned aerial vehicles or remotely piloted aircraft" within the city.

Reason for the veto: "It may cause frustrations to some sectors," even as the mayor said the ordinance was "ultra vires or prejudicial to public welfare." Rama said the ordinance prohibits the use of drones within the vicinity or over government facilities, which means that public schools and government offices cannot use drones. The Civil Aviation Authority allows drones weighing less than seven kilograms, which the ordinance prohibits unless CAA certification is first obtained.

OTHER PUBLICIZED VETOES. Three other publicized recent vetoes, which highlighted each time the crushing of a major piece of work from the local legislature:

* City Ordinance #2373: Vetoed January, 25, 2023 as "ultra vires," or outside the authority of the local legislature to pass, was an ordinance that would grant the City Council the power to issue subpoenas and charge with contempt those who disobey. Authored by Mary Ann de los Santos.

* City Ordinance #2690: Vetoed June 15, 2023 as "highly impractical and non-viable" was an ordinance creating a Cebu City Heritage Council that could be led also by the vice mayor instead of the mayor alone. "Respect the prerogative of the mayor," the veto letter said, by naming the mayor or his authorized representative as the chairman. The rejected ordinance said the Council will be headed "by the mayor or the vice mayor." Authored by Vice Mayor Garcia.

* City Ordinance (number not available): Vetoed September 5, 2023 was an ordinance that would require live-streaming of the bidding process at City Hall, for "violation" of the Data Privacy Act, the implementing rules of the Government Procurement Act, thus "prejudicial" to the bidders' welfare, and for "compromising" the general welfare clause of the Local Government Code. Authored by Councilor Gealon.

CHECKS AND BALANCES. The veto to be sure is part of the checks and balances mechanism, under the principle of separation of powers between the executive and legislative departments. That is not expected to work totally in local government units where an administration operates unavoidably immersed in partisan politics.

When the chief executive and the dominant party in the legislature belong to the same party, they're expected to work faster and more efficiently. Through party caucuses, the mayor and his councilors thresh out problems of major ordinances. If an ordinance doesn't fit in with the program of the administration, that is retooled or rejected right in the City Council.

WHY THEN DOESN'T RAMA USE his party's control of the Sanggunian to push his program more swiftly?

It must be his professed love for the City Council's job of fiscalizing, which Rama loudly advocated for when he was vice mayor to then mayor Labella and leading the Sanggunian during Barug's 2019-2022 term. Aside from making himself and the City Council relevant -- particularly when mayor Labella was ailing and had to entrust vital functions to top aides -- then VM Rama wanted the legislature to speak out to power, even if that meant sounding hostile to the chief executive.

That may be a luxurious exercise now, with Rama as the mayor, the power of control in his grasp, and, a compelling reason, he has been piling a lot on his plate with the current term nearing its end. Next year will be a lot busier, with the 2025 election at the bend. He would need his promised projects completed or in most parts seen.

LOOK AT THE VETO 'VICTIMS.' All "victims" of the veto knife -- except one, BOPK Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos -- were Barug stalwarts: no less than the vice mayor in one ordinance and the chairman of the committee on laws, in two others.

All the Rama-rejected ordinances, even including the contempt-subpoena grant filed by BOPK's de los Santos, were deliberated on and approved by the City Council. Meaning, the ordinances passed screening by the Barug majority, which in fact by its approval embraced them as its own. Otherwise, the Barug councilors, by sheer number, would've terminated any proposed ordinance without reaching Mayor Rama's desk.

CONSIDER THE QUESTIONS OF LAW, which the mayor had cited as reason for most of his vetoes. Apparently, the legal opinion of the mayor's lawyers and that of the members of the committee on laws clashed.

Did Councilor Gealon -- with other Barug legal luminaries in the City Council laws committee such as VM Garcia and Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera -- see laws on "ultra vires," invasion of privacy, and investigative powers of the local legislature differently than the mayor's lawyers did? Apparently yes. Maybe because of clashing interests other than public good that taint each side's view.

But couldn't they have swapped notes, being on the same Barug boat, while the ordinances were being crafted -- so that the mayor's objections could've been ironed out, or if that is not possible, they could've saved themselves all the energy and the public expense?

OF THE MAJOR VETOES, ONLY ONE got an attempt to override: the veto on the ordinance granting subpoena-contempt powers to the City Council. Councilor de los Santos, the author, last January sought an over-ride but in the voting, 13 councilors abstained, including those who approved or didn't express dissent when the Sanggunian passed it on final reading last December 21, 2022.

Obviously, they didn't want to cross with the mayor. Councilor Joy Augustus Young, at the time the override was rejected, said aloud, "Why can't we fight the mayor for our (the councilors') right?" The City Council members, including Young, must know why but nobody answered on record the rhetorical question.

Councilor Gealon told me last November 12 that as author, he respects the mayor's decision to veto the unanimously-approved ordinance on drones.

Instead of seeking to fix the ordinance -- which is the mayor's mantra on defective big-ticket joint ventures of the City -- Gealon accepted its fate, advising instead stakeholders, such as people in the uniformed service, "to seek audience with the mayor" and "raise their security concerns about unauthorized flying of drones over jail facilities, police stations and military camps, among other high-security areas."

DISCUSSION ENDS. The mayor has spoken, Gealon told me. So it shall be done, or something similarly imperial-sounding.

The sad thing obviously is that debate ends after the veto. The City Council -- unless there's a motion to override -- doesn't review the mayor's arguments. And even if Mayor Rama's arguments are outweighed, the two-thirds vote to defeat the veto is "impossible" to muster.

When the mayor kills an ordinance, it's really dead.


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