Seares: Is Mike Rama legally barred from entering City Hall? Councilors thought of inviting suspended mayor to ask about CCMC construction delay and cost. Dropped the idea, will get information instead from DEPW, hospital chief.

Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos (left), façade of the Cebu City Medical Center, and suspended Cebu City mayor Michael Rama.
Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos (left), façade of the Cebu City Medical Center, and suspended Cebu City mayor Michael Rama.File photos

[] Legal question on whether Rama is prohibited by law to go inside City Hall steals some thunder from Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos's speech that asked for non-release of P700 million savings to finish CCMC construction.

CEBU City Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos's privilege speech Wednesday, June 26, 2024, reminded the Sanggunian and the public it represents that construction of the Cebu City Medical Center (CCMC) is still far from completed and may cost the City more money.

More than a year ago, on March 8, 2023, an executive session of the City Council looked into how much was needed to finish the 11-level city hospital and when it would be completed. In July that year, it was eight years since the contract for its Phase One was awarded. This July, it would be nine years, although some councilors think it's already a decade or even longer since the project began.

WHAT LAW BANS RAMA? The councilors would want answers to their questions and Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr., a probable mayor-wannabe in 2025, wanted in a corollary motion to invite preventively-suspended mayor (PSM) Michael Rama to tell them at an executive session on July 24. Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera, however, quickly foiled that request with the statement that PSP Rama cannot enter City Hall, prompting Archival to ask, What law prohibits that? Recess! which resulted in dumping the plan to invite Rama and inviting instead representatives from CCMC and the city's Department of Engineering and Public Works.

There may be no such law. Rama's suspension cuts off his powers as elected mayor, temporarily takes him out of his office but does not strip his rights as a private citizen, including the right to enter City Hall and appear as invited resource person before the City Council.

Councilor de los Santos told me Wednesday, June 26, she doesn't agree with Councilor Pesquera that PSM Rama cannot enter City Hall. The purpose of the mayor's suspension is to prevent him from influencing the investigation and its witnesses. His appearance before the City Council is only to "shed light or (share) his knowledge about the CCMC construction." De los Santos said it would've nothing to do with the subject of his preventive suspension.

Pesquera and Councilor Rey Gealon, both lawyers who're in the City Council committee on laws, didn't answer my request for clarification or comment.

Plainly though, even to non-lawyers, Rama cannot be banned from City Hall unless he'd go there to remove documents or coax witnesses. Taken away temporarily from him is his functions as mayor, not his rights as a private citizen or even as guest of the City Council who has a lot to clarify about the CCMC project.

WHAT MLR COULD TELL. Among others, de los Santos said, PSM Rama could talk about the termination of the contractor last year and his declaration on December 18, 2023 that by February 2024, construction of CCMC would be completed "at no cost to the City Government." De los Santos quoted Rama: "We already have the money, money that did not come from City Hall."

Also, Councilor Pastor Alcover Jr. said in early 2023 that at one of their meetings at the CCMC construction site, Mayor Rama declared the city hospital would be finished that year "without a single centavo from the City Government." [On July 3, 2023, the mayor revised his completion date target to "before the end of my term in 2025."] About the City no longer spending for the project, hospital chief Dr. Mancao, -- asked as to who'd finish the rest of the floors -- again with Councilor de los Santos quoting, said then, "since it would be privately funded, the City Government would no longer conduct a bidding."

PSM Rama could inform the City Council at last --

[1] About the contract to finish: who the contractor/s are and what happens with two contractors working on the same unfinished parts of the building.

De los Santos said she'd want to know because even if indeed the money for the new contract came from the private sector, here or abroad, the mayor didn't represent himself as a private person but as Cebu City chief executive. De los Santos said the City Government, "prudence dictates, must have a hand in its execution." Another councilor asked: What if the building, heavens forbid, would collapse? Whom to blame?

If there are two contractors, imagine, de los Santos said, "two contractors working on the same building, using the same or different plans," with one at no cost to the City and the other "a recipient of the city's bidding award."

[2] About the P700 million from the city savings: Obliquely raised on the donation component of the cost is what happened to the funds from the private sector when that was supposed to pay the cost of completing CCMC. Why touch additional City Hall money when the completion work would be "at no cost to the City Government"? In effect, the inquiry would seek some kind of accounting of the privately donated funds, which Rama had solicited or, as he put it, "begged" for?

BUILDING PLAN, SERIAL AWARDS, CHOP-CHOP WORK. Councilor Archival had asked for the complete plan of the building but obviously was not given it because, again this week, he wailed about the project not having a plan. How could the building be bid out if there were no plan, another councilor commented. There was a plan, Pesquera said, and her office has a copy of it.

There must be a plan but none or not all the plans, if changes were made, were given to the City Council. Archival seemed to equate non-production of the plans before the Sanggunian with total absence of plans. Engr. Jonathan Tumulak Jr., then DEPW chief told the City Council "there is a complete plan from the start" but, he admitted, "it lacks specific details." The plans were only about the general structure. The specifics were to come later as the new CCMC is a special structure: "specialized gyud siya."

Other than the alleged absence of a plan, Archival in 2023 complained of changes in the plan and what went with it: "We continue to add, we continue to award." Councilor Noel Wenceslao observed then, "Different contractors, different scopes of work." DEPW's Tumulak at the time conceded that the construction was conducted "chop-chop" and in phases.

Archival also said he'd seek the creation of a body to monitor and make strategic plans to complete the hospital construction. DEPW, he said then, cannot do it because of politics. Obviously, that body never came into being.

Clearly, disclosures at the City Council as early as March last year didn't correct the lapses and failures in the CCMC project. Would another executive meeting of the City Council this July 24 do better?

HOW MUCH MORE IS NEEDED? Engr. Tumulak told the City Council in 2023 that a total of P2.8 billion was already spent on the building: Phase 1, P600 million; Phase 2, P300 million; Phase 3, P100 million; and Phase 4, P1.8 billion.

Tumulak's estimate of the money needed to complete CCMC has been rising: In 2021, P1.8 billion; in 2022, P900 million; in 2023, P1 billion.

[Related article: "Seares: P1 billion more needed to complete CCMC," March 23, 2023]

CONFUSED CITY COUNCIL MIGHT BE BETTER ENLIGHTENED with PSM Rama giving them information. Rama, when he was vice mayor, also fumed over the way the CCMC construction had been going.

Or the City Council might be confused as ever. If Rama wouldn't give them straightforward, direct-to-the-point answers and instead vent anew his discontent about people calling him "suspended mayor," without the qualifier "preventively," and calling Acting Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia "mayor," minus the qualifier "acting."

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