Seares: Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos sees quick kill of Mayor Rama's veto on her ordinance granting City Council subpoena-contempt powers.

CEBU. Cebu City Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos.
CEBU. Cebu City Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos.Photo from De Los Santos' Facebook page

[] New vote to override Rama's January 2023 veto of additional powers for Sanggunian may test the suspended mayor's capacity to fight off minority offensive during his suspension.

[] Instead of re-filing her vetoed ordinance, de los Santos uses a mere resolution. Councilor Gealon said he'd also use the same process in reviving his vetoed ordinance on live-streaming of City Hall biddings.

WHAT'S GOING ON. Two Cebu City councilors, whose separate ordinances were vetoed in 2023 by then sitting mayor Michael Rama, have taken steps to revive and pass them.

The ordinances are:

* Councilor Rey Gealon's ordinance #2703 that would require live-streaming of the bidding process at Cebu City Hall conducted by the city's BAC or bids and awards committee. It was passed by the City Council August 16, 2023 and vetoed by the mayor September 5, 2023 for violation of the Data Privacy Act. Gealon accepted the mayor's decision.

* Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos's ordinance #2673 that would allow the City Council to investigate a suspected irregularity or anomaly, with the power to subpoena documents and witnesses and penalize disobedience. It was passed December 21, 2022 and vetoed by the mayor January 19, 2023 as "ultra vires" or not within the power of the City Council to legislate. De los Santos attempted to override the veto but the January 25, 2023 vote failed.

DOING IT DIFFERENTLY. With Rama the veto-maker away because of his six-month suspension, Gealon and de los Santos have resurrected the two ordinances but in different, contrasting ways: News reports said Gealon re-filed the BAC live-streaming ordinance while De los Santos filed a mere resolution.

Obviously, Gealon at first didn't want an override, the same way he shunned it after the mayor's veto in September 2023. He'd go through again the full route of filing, first reading, etc. In contrast, De los Santos wants a quick kill, in another attempt to override the veto, which failed the first time in January 2023.

Would House rules allow it? I asked both Gealon and de los Santos.

Gealon didn't reply early enough. No word from Gealon while de los Santos told me Tuesday, June 4, 2024, the City Council House rules "don't provide a specific guide" but, citing a June 4, 2008 #40 opinion of DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government), she said the power of the City Council to override the mayor's veto does not prescribe since the Local Government Code (Republic Act #7160) does not provide such a prescriptive period.

There's only one qualifier, according to the DILG opinion: "As an incident to the delegated legislative power of the Sanggunian, the power to override the mayor's veto is subsumed to the corresponding term" of the said Sanggunian.

[Gealon, earlier reported to have resorted to re-filing the ordinance instead of overriding the veto, told me Wednesday morning, June 5, he'd move ("later") to override the veto on the city that would require live-streaming of the bidding process. There's no "reglamentary period (under the Local Government Code) restricting the exercise of the override," he said. It can be done beyond 15 days from the submission of the mayor's veto message to the City Council, he said.]

WOULD FRESH-OVERRIDE METHOD WORK? If her way of doing it is approved by two-thirds of the majority, Councilor de los Santos said it no longer goes back to the mayor, "whoever sits there," as it is in effect an act of over-riding the mayor's veto.

That would be logical but what if the local chief executive would insist on acting on the revived ordinance? De los Santos said she's confident that "Acting Mayor (Raymond Alvin) Garcia also believes in the importance of the ordinance, for he himself he stated he is an avid advocate and believer in transparency and accountability."

CHANGE OF MIND OF COUNCIL MEMBERS. In the January 2023 attempt to override Mayor Rama's veto, 12 councilors allied with Rama's Partido Barug -- all of whom had voted in December 2022 for the ordinance -- abstained. Only three BOPK councilors -- Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival, Councilor Joy Young and de los Santos -- voted for the override.

For this fresh attempt to reverse the veto, de los Santos told me she had reached out and talked with the councilors. "If they stand firm on their conviction to support my proposal," she said, "this would literally be over in under 60 minutes."

That optimism could be dashed if a crucial element wouldn't come in. Suspended mayor Rama might use pressure and charm to persuade the councilors not to change their original vote. Or he'd try but would be rebuffed.

In a way, de los Santos's new override-the-veto offensive would test Rama's enthusiasm and capacity to preserve his political turf despite his physical absence from City Hall.

MINORITY IS STRONG AND WEAK. Issues against the Rama administration are often swept under the rug or not followed-through once exposed in the City Council or elsewhere. I asked, does this not speak of a feeble, unaggressive minority?

De los Santos told me she "strongly" disagrees. "Erroneous," she said. Yet in the same breath, she owned up the minority's weakness. "If numbers are the standard for strength, it is apparent that the minority (BOPK) is weak (against Barug)."

But the public, she said, has seen how the minority argues and defends its position in several key issues brought before the City Council. That's where de los Santos and her BOPK colleagues are strong: in exposing and attacking. But, she conceded, when a vote is called is when they're weak. "The majority always wins... the majority doesn't even lift a finger to explain their position."

LEGAL REASONS CITED IN MAYOR'S VETO included the Supreme Court jurisprudence in Negros Oriental II Electric Cooperative vs Dumaguete City Sangguniang Panglungsod, which ruled in 1987 that local legislatures do not have the power of contempt for disobedience to their subpoena for testimony or evidence.

Other than the legal arguments that the veto listed, Mayor Rama must have instinctively or fully known that the additional powers de los Santos would like the City Council to have could be used by the local legislature against the chief executive, whoever he'd be -- Rama, A.M. Garcia, or even a BOPK mayor such as Tomas Osmeña.

De los Santos said she didn't want to speculate but "whoever sits as chief executive, if he or she advocates for and believes in transparency and accountability as the norm in government service," she said, "then why thumb down such a noble cause"?

MAYOR'S OFFICE 'NOT COOPERATING' WITH CITY COUNCIL. In arguing that the City Council needs the power under the vetoed ordinance, de los Santos hadn't mentioned the mayor's office as target, obviously so as not to lose the vote of the pro-administration councilors.

This time, the councilor disclosed her beef against a non-cooperative executive department.

She told me they have "experienced on several occasions" refusal of offices to provide documents on matters tackled by the Sanggunian. She said as specific case the City Health Department's failure to provide the City Council with documents it has requested in three resolutions.

The mayor was called out in a resolution unanimously passed by the City Council to release the salaries of four city assessors' office employees. The call was not heeded, de los Santos said. The mayor and seven others wouldn't have been suspended, she said.

The subpoena powers "would have had great impact and provided the City Council teeth to exact transparency and accountability," de los Santos said.

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