Seares: No specific law, no order banning entry of Mike Rama into City Hall. Supposed prohibition interpreted from the possibility of a suspended mayor tampering with or influencing evidence. Bit of a stretch.

CEBU. Councilors Joy Pesquera, Nestor Archival and Mary Ann de los Santos.
CEBU. Councilors Joy Pesquera, Nestor Archival and Mary Ann de los Santos.File photos

WHEN Cebu City Council Majority Floor-leader Jocelyn Pesquera cited Wednesday, June 26 [2024] that preventively-suspended (PS) Mayor Michael Rama couldn’t appear before the city legislature because of his suspension, Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. asked if there’s a law imposing the ban.

That wasn’t answered because a recess was quickly declared, cutting off discussion. At recess, the councilors agreed that “better resource persons” to inform the Sanggunian on the progress and cost of Cebu City Medical Center construction will be representatives of the city’s Department of Engineering and Public Work (DEPW) and CCMC, not the suspended mayor. They changed invitees to the July 24 executive session without tackling the legal issue of the supposed ban on PSM Rama.

PESQUERA ‘RATIONALE’ Councilor Joy Pesquera told me Friday, June 28 that “the rationale of a preventive suspension is that the one complained against (the suspended person) will not have the opportunity to tamper with the documents in relation to the case.” Thus, she said, “the respondent is not allowed to be inside the workplace.”

Pesquera sticks to her view aired during Wednesday’s session but obviously, she does not say if there’s a law explicitly imposing the ban. What the laws say is that the suspended mayor cannot perform the functions of a mayor during the period of suspension. Suspension of his functions and powers rests on the reason—

[1] Under the Local Government Code, “the possibility that his continuance in office could influence witnesses or pose a threat to the safety and integrity of the records and other evidence.”

[2] Under the Ombudsman Act, “the respondent’s continued stay in office may prejudice the case filed against him. The suspended official is barred from performing the functions of his office and doesn’t get paid, but he “does not vacate and lose title to his office.” That must be one reason Mike Rama wants to be addressed ”Mayor” and if the word “Preventively” qualifies his suspension.

NO EXPRESS PROHIBITION. So there’s no express ban in the law. Being stripped of functions and powers doesn’t carry with it the prohibition on the suspended official to enter City Hall, which is a large complex of several departments and offices, including the City Council, which has its own functions to perform separate from the executive functions.

No specifics actually may be found in the two laws. Only the reason for the suspension of the suspended official’s functions and powers while the suspension order is in effect.

PURPOSE OF APPEARANCE. Mike Rama’s appearance before the City Council wouldn’t be to perform a function of the mayor. He would be there as a resource person whose knowledge of the CCMC construction could help the councilors decide what to do about the long delay (almost a decade), burgeoning cost (about P2.8 billion spent and P1 billion more needed), and possible lapses of project builders and managers.

As to the “opportunity” to tamper with witness testimony and documentary evidence, Rama, Councilor de los Santos said, would be there for a specific purpose: to tell the City Council what he knows about the construction woes. He could hardly be changing or influencing evidence—and if he’d use the forum instead to wail about the alleged injustice he’s undergoing, the Sanggunian could promptly stop his rant.

Former city administrator and Freeman columnist Nigel Paul Villarete—in a comment on a SunStar article about the supposed ban (Seares: Is Mike Rama legally barred from entering City Hall? June 27, 2024)—wrote that it’s “difficult to determine his intent or action” when Rama enters City Hall. How do we know, Villarete said, whether he enters the building to influence evidence (“getting docs or coaxing witnesses”). He could be there “as a private citizen, getting cedula or paying taxes.”

Besides, Villarete asked, is there a ban? If there is, it must come from the Ombudsman or the acting mayor. News archives don’t show a story about a ban against the suspended mayor. It came up only during the City Council session when Councilor Archival, a declared aspirant for mayor in 2025, moved to invite Rama. Pesquera used it as a reason to abort the corollary motion to Councilor de los Santos’s initiative in her privilege speech on the CCMC project. Looks like a stretched interpretation of the law.

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